Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Useful guide on interacting with people with different disabilities

A very useful guide to understanding how people with a spectrum of differing disabilities perform varied tasks and how to interact with these individuals can be found on the
For Inspirational blog.

The opening paragraph sets up much of what follows.

“Nearly all employers and human resource professionals are aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Yet, how often do you, your colleagues, or the average individual have contact with someone who is visually impaired/blind, using a wheel chair, or profoundly deaf? When you do, how do you react? Interact? Ignore? Assist? Marvel at their ability to move through their environment living full and productive lives?”

“What can you do to put yourself and the person with a disability at ease? Well, this is our purpose here. It is not to attempt to answer all your questions. Rather, to discuss appropriate methods for interacting with individuals who are disabled while squelching many myths and misconceptions. You'll learn what to do and not do, techniques and technologies used for employment as well as in daily living.”

The paragraphs that follow are informative and work to share insight to the world of disabilities. More than focusing on the disability, it emphasizes the individual’s sense of ability, which is definitely worth sharing.

Being that no other source is cited, I’ll assume that the writer of this material was the blog’s author, niki16. However, checking niki16’s profile informs readers that this author writes 159 blogs on a wide range of subjects. A random examination of many of those blogs will show several posts by niki16 as recent as yesterday. So, niki16 is either very busy or has some automated program doing lots of blogging.

I’m not here to dis the author, but to share the useful information. I’m just questioning the source.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Updated: Gathering of resources for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

An interesting triangulation of events have led me to put together a roundup of related items. The common bond between each of these items is traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

A few days ago, I received a comment to an older piece I wrote about TBI from a reader who writes his own blog called
Second Chance to Live.

His comments intrigued me sufficiently, so I’m sharing them here.

“I am interested in providing encouragement to our veterans and the soldiers who have been wounded while protecting our great country. Additionally, I am interested in providing practical information and insight to assist their families. My name is Craig J. Phillips. I am a traumatic brain injury survivor and a master’s level rehabilitation counselor. I sustained an open skull fracture with right frontal lobe damage and remained in a coma for 3 weeks at the age of 10 in August of 1967. I underwent brain and skull surgery after waking from the coma. Follow-up cognitive and psyche-social testing revealed that I would not be able to succeed beyond high school. In 1967 Neurological Rehabilitation was not available to me, so I had to teach myself how to walk, talk, read, write and speak in complete sentences. I completed high school on time and went on to obtain both my undergraduate and graduate degrees.”

“Through out my lifetime I developed strategies to overcome many obstacles and in so doing I have achieved far beyond all reasonable expectations. On February 6, 2007 at the encouragement of a friend I created Second Chance to Live. Second Chance to Live presents topics in such a way to encourage, motivate and empower the reader to live life on life’s terms. I believe our circumstances are not meant to keep us down, but to build us up. As a traumatic brain injury survivor, I speak from my experience, strength and hope. As a professional, I provide information to encourage, motivate and empower both disabled and non-disabled individuals to not give up on their process.”

Curious about the writer of that comment, I spent a good bit of time reading over the Second Chance to Live web site. Here are my reactions. The site is a rich resource for TBI information. The author has used his personal experience to chronicle many found truths in life, often mirroring the Eastern psyche of his martial arts training. He writes in a very philosophical style, but shares from the heart. His goal is to offer encouragement and inspiration to others who are traveling down the road he journeyed down forty years ago. His knowledge and insights to life are only eclipsed by his tenacious spirit to persevere despite the challenges thrown before him. He seems to work diligently to reply to requests readers leave in comments to his various posts.

The only critique of the site I have is that I wish Mr. Phillips would provide an email address. While comments are great for sharing thoughts and feedback, sometimes people may not want to leave a public comment and want to correspond only with the site’s author. From what I can see after spending a long period of time on the site, this one feature is lacking, or is very difficult to locate. Please make it easier for people to contact you directly. I administer several blogs and I often get emails instead of comments on the blog.

(Update 10/31/07: The above item is no longer a problem. He now has a contact form in place to aid any readers who prefer private communication in place of a public comment. Great work to finding a quick remedy, Mr. Phillips.)

From that previous site, I followed a link in one of the comments which led me to a blog that was begun to chronicle the progress of
Sgt. Samuel Nichols, USMC.

Sgt. Nichols received a TBI when he was seriously injured as the result of an improvised explosive device striking the vehicle he was riding in while serving in Iraq. The blog is a very personal sharing of thoughts, feelings, and events by his family. I couldn’t help but to feel moved by this living, virtual chronicle to one of my newly found heroes. In addition to sharing in Sgt. Nichols’ progress, the blog offers a wealth of information in the links to TBI sites and related beteran resources.

And, finally, there was this Oct. 25 New York Times article about ABC News anchor
Bob Woodruff,
Arguably the most high profile TBI survivor. The article discusses Woodruff’s advent into becoming an outspoken spokesperson for wounded soldiers, shining a particularly bright light on those with severe head injuries.

While a TBI has such an impacting effect on people, a large source of strength for meeting these challenges comes in the support from family, friends, and community. In that spirit, I hope the above information is useful in providing some network links for anybody needing some TBI resources.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More discussion on service animals

Several weeks ago, I was engaged in a conversation with a family friend and was explaining the Access Ability blog to him. One of the subjects that I discussed was a letter I had received from a reader, inquiring about therapy animals and access to hospitals in California. This conversation then took on a shift to include comparing service animals and therapy animals.

One of the questions my friend asked was what kinds of animals are used as service animals? (We have previously discussed guide dogs, so I didn’t even approach that group.) He assumed, and I agreed, that it is most often dogs, but I did explain about the case of the Missouri woman who was fighting with her city to recognize her monkey as a service animal. Additionally, on several occasions when I’ve flown with my Seeing Eye dog, I’ve had flight attendants tell me about a woman with some motor impairment, who regularly flies with an assistance monkey. The monkey will open her drinks for her, insert a straw and then hold it up for her to drink.

Of course, there are also other animals being used as service animals. One of the first that may come to mind are
guide horses for the blind,
a novel approach for providing an animal guide which attempts to maximize the miniature horse’s longer lifespan over that of conventional guide dogs.

But, I still defer to my assertion that it is most often dogs being used. Last week, I read a news article about a school presentation being made by somebody with their Hearing dog from
Texas Hearing and Service Dogs.
I think that dogs are well suited to do this type of work for people who are deaf. I would think there is room for other types of animals to conduct these functions, but am not certain that others are being trained in this capacity.

On an ADHD web site, I later also read about
4 Paws for Ability,
an organization that trains and provides service animals for people who have often been turned away from other service animal organizations.

One thing that 4 Paws does, which is quite interesting to me, is that they place animals with children. Some times, they even certify the parent and child together to work as a three part team with the dog. It basically surprised me that they place dogs with children. From my own experience, I know that it is a rare situation that a teenager will be able to get a guide dog.

They claim to be the innovater of the training and use of Autism assistance dogs. This is the organization’s apparent niche as the web site states that 90% of applicants are those working toward getting an Autism assistance dog.

Also on its web site, 4 Paws specifies it is not taking applications for psychiatric service dogs or emotional support animals for adult partners. I also find that note particularly interesting, being I had never heard of the term “psychiatric service dog” until working on my previous post. Now, I see it again, in such a brief time span.

I know there are many other service animal organizations out there doing some good work. I just don’t have their names or web sites handy at this time. If you would like to leave a comment and share the name of your favorite service dog organization, please do so. If you have personal experience with one of these, please share that as well.

University of Rochester case seeking to redefine term "Service Animal"

I have previously written here about how important it is for colleges and universities to act proactively and have a service animal policy in place. This policy should note the characteristics that differentiate a service animal from a therapy animal. The reason for posting about this today are some recent news articles and internet postings I’ve come across. I’ll discuss one of these on this post and write more very shortly.

A University of Rochester student filed a lawsuit on Oct. 1 to
have her Labrador retriever live with her in her dorm
and also Accompany her on campus. She has supplied some medical documentation as well as also supporting documents from dog trainers, but the university has denied her request, stating that she is neither disabled nor her dog a service animal. The comment by the UR Dean implies that they feel her dog is a pet and not a service animal.

In the article linked above, you might note two of the very credible sources the reporter sought out for their perspectives on this matter. First, there is
Jane Jarrow,
a name widely recognized and respected in disability service circles. Secondly, the reporter also sought input from the president of
Guide Dog Users Inc.,
an affiliate organization of the
American Council of the Blind,
one of the two major national blind consumer organizations. Both Jane Jarrow and GDUI are established and credible resources about service dogs and where they fall in under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One other source cited in the article raises an issue of its own. You will notice the Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSD) is presented as a respected and established organization. I’ll hand it to the organization. I’ve not heard of them prior to this article, but when checking out
the PSD web site,
the organization certainly appears legit. Additionally, the PSD Board of Directors is impressive and well credentialed. While we may not have heard of this group previously, I’ve got a feeling that we’ll be seeing a lot more from them in the future as well as people fighting to have accessibility with their psychiatric service dog.

Getting back to the original case, because I have no knowledge of the student’s claims or the documentation presented, I will not take a stand on this matter. However, her case serves to illustrate the need once again to have these important policies in place before facing these kinds of situations.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Disaboom strives to be online social community for people with disabilities

Q: What would you get if you crossed a multi-faceted web site targeting the disabled community with a focus on the coming impact of the Baby Boom” generation?

A: Well, you’d get,
Of course.

Here’s what the site’s “Overview” page says:
“Disaboom, Inc. was founded to develop the first interactive online community dedicated to constantly improving the way people with disabilities or functional limitations live their lives. It will also serve as a comprehensive online resource not only for people living with such conditions, but also their immediate families and friends, caregivers, recreation and rehabilitation providers, and employers. There are more than 100 million adults worldwide living with disabilities or functional limitations today. Founded and designed by doctors and fellow Disaboomers to meet this untapped market’s specific needs, will bring together content and tools ranging from specialized health information to social networking to daily living resources, in a single interactive site.”

The team behind this fresh, new site, launched just last month, seems to have done a good bit of homework in preparing the site for its debut. There are social networking aspects, similar to those found on MySpace and FaceBook, but there are other tools, which are more directly tailored to fit the needs of the direct community the site is aimed at, those with disabilities. The site offers blogs and video hosting to registered users, just like the two social networking giants, but adds some things that they don’t have.

First, there is the focused news on the disability front. Secondly, there are groups and forums with participation of medical professionals. And, finally, there is a review section that is a uniquely qualified offering for this audience. In that section, members can, not only read member reviews of the accessibility of retail businesses, hotels, and restaurants, but they can also write their own. Being that the site is directed at people with all disabilities, and not just looking at one segment of the disabled population, this offers wheelchair users and guide dog users alike a forum to share both good and bad experiences with business establishments. Hopefully, they will post good ones, as those are just as useful as tipping others off about businesses to avoid.

I’d like to share a personal comment about the web site. While I like the approach of aiming towards an audience cutting across all types of disabilities, doing so means that there is the potential to overlook some details. In that sense, I feel that that the developers have missed a step concerning the accessibility of their web site by visually impaired people who use screen readers. The site incorporates Flash animation and, it does not appear that they have taken the steps to make their Flash content accessible. As I’ve written about previously, Flash does not play nice with screen readers like JAWS, but it can be made to work. However, the developers must create their content with that aspect in mind. As the page is constructed at present, it takes some extra effort to navigate the home page due to the inaccessible Flash. To me, this is a glaring oversight when you are directing your site towards people with disabilities.

However, I am optimistic and feel that the developers at this fresh upstart will address those concerns once made aware of them.

I spent a good bit of time last night looking over the site and must say that I’m pretty excited about what this could grow into. It is a very promising venture that has a large upside. Now, I’m off to go set up my Disaboom membership to check it out in even more depth.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two advances in accessibility: Kurzweil 3000 USB and WOWIO

There are two pieces of accessibility news that I want to share today.

First, Kurzweil 3000 is now available as a USB utility. It is available in two flavors, the Professional and the Learn Station. The Professional includes the scan capabilities, while the Learn Station has all the usual Kurzweil 3000 features, minus the scanning ability. Being able to run this powerful learning software from a USB flash drive lets students have the freedom to run it on any computer and also lets them store their settings and files they create.

For full details of the power provided in the portability of this assistive technology, go to the
Official Kurzweil 3000 web site.

Second, how about a repository of books in pdf format? I like the concept, and on top of that, the books are free to download. Check out,
where the slogan is “Free books plus free minds.” The site is searchable and has several subheadings, including one for textbooks.

According to the privately owned company’s web site,
WOWIO is today the only source where readers can legally download high-quality copyrighted ebooks from leading publishers for free. Readers have access to a wide range of offerings, including works of classic literature, college textbooks, comic books, and popular fiction and non-fiction titles.

Finally, thanks to Dr. Brian Friedlander of the
Assistive Technology blog,
For informing me about the two bits of accessibility news above. I routinely read his blog as his topics make regular appearances on a news alert I have for assistive technology.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It's October so get to raising awareness the United Spinal Association way


That’s not just the cheer for American teams in international competitions. It is also what each of us should be calling out to recognize what the
United Spinal Association
is doing to recognize Disability Employment Awareness Month. They are using the promotion of this to raise awareness about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007. This is definitely good, as there are so many people I’ve spoken with who had not heard of the pending legislation until I brought it up.

The step that United Spinal is taking is a good tool for all of us to remember. Take something that you were going to promote anyways and co-brand an important issue with it. Way to go, USA!

Monday, October 15, 2007

White Cane Safety Day is upon us

While it is a little late in the day, today is nonetheless National White Cane Safety Day. What is your city/campus/office doing to promote awareness?

As I’ve posted about before here on Access Ability, there is a good collection of White Cane Day resources, including activities planned in the cities of Austin and Houston, on the
Web site.

I’ve been in contact with the webmaster of the web site and discussed future plans of the page. My suggestion is to keep it for a future resource for information about National White Cane Safety Day. It is only logical to keep it. The site already has the common sense web address and the basic blocks of information are already in place. All that would need to be modified are the different events which are being planned. It might even grow to include a directory of several different cities across the country for next year’s awareness day. There is a lot of potential there.

For the last month, traffic to the Access Ability blog has included several web searches each day that included terms related to White Cane Safety Day. There are many people looking for resources as the day approaches. I feel strongly that the WhiteCaneDay.orgsite should continue to build and collect resources to have a potentially mega-resource that everybody can call upon next year.

Disability professional teaches class on using ASL to communicate with infants

One of my favorite disability service professionals was recently featured in a Houston Chronicle news article about her class on teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to preverbal infants.

In the article, Beth Case, of North Harris Montgomery Community College, and also the host of the
Disability 411 podcast,
Discusses how she began using sign language with her own nephew and what the class will encompass. The article also describes the community interest that grew to become this class offered through Case’s college.

One item mentioned briefly in the article that grabbed my attention was the applications for using ASL for communicating with developmentally delayed children, including those with Down syndrome and autism.

Link to the Houston Chronicle article:

Friday, October 12, 2007

University of Arizona to loan laptops to students with learning disabilities

The University of Arizona, with the assistance of a donation of more than $25,000 from Gateway, is launching a novel program to loan
laptop computers to students with learning disabilities.

The group of incoming freshmen have been identified by their academic need and predicted academic difficulty.

As long as the students maintain a grade of C or better, they can keep the laptops for the duration of their time at the university.

However, what makes this endeavor truly unique is that the students will also attend a class twice a week covering a variety of topics. Subjects will include the campus computer network, computer security, anti-virus applications, campus library computer resources, and training on software, as well as other computer skills.

I would hope that specific computer tools, such as Kurzweil 3000, would be identified to assist each student individually and training be included for them. It may be, but the news article does not specifically say so.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Updated: New, innovative reading service for the blind

Every once in a while, I come across something new that makes me slap my head and say, “Now, why hasn’t this been done before.” ReadThisToMe is definitely one of these things. This is a new and innovative web site that uses what is often considered old technology to deliver a personal reading service to blind people.

According to the email announcing the launch of it,
Read This To Me
is a free reading service for the blind, powered by volunteers and Internet collaboration. ReadThisToMe allows blind and low-vision people to have printed documents read to them over the phone.”

Ironically, the old-tech solution for the service is what makes this a great solution for getting print information. One of the best things about ReadThisToMe is that the blind or visually impaired person doesn’t even need a computer. It only requires a phone line and a fax machine. (Of course, the phone numbers for Read This To Me will also be necessary!) However, where this service is superior to current optical character recognition (OCR) software is that it will read handwritten material, or documents with complex graphics.

The service works like this:

Step 1: The blind person faxes what he needs read to the toll-free, ReadThisToMe fax number.
That number is 1-877-333-8848.
The fax must include a cover sheet containing the blind person’s name and a number where he/she can be reached.

The faxed document itself can be most anything, including handwritten letters, food labels, or even a multi-page magazine article.

Step 2: One of the volunteer readers at ReadThisToMe will then call the person and read the document.

And, users can’t argue about the price or availability. ReadThisToMe is completely free and available throughout the United States. However, the company is accepting donations and welcomes business sponsorships.

For more information, interested people can go to the service’s web site at,
or alternatively, keeping true to their stated mission of users not being required to have a computer, interested persons can listen to a recorded message describing how to use the service. They can reach this by calling 1-877-333-8847.

Additionally, if you are sighted and want to give to the community by giving some time as one of ReadThisToMe’s volunteer readers, then check out the web site. All you need to be able to give is a few minutes a day.

Further information about the service is available on the site's FAQ page.

UPDATE 10/10/07:
Since originally posting about this project, I have exchanged correspondence with the founder of ReadThisToMe. It is a brand new service and, at this time, has not been used by anybody yet. However, he is looking forward to clients contacting the service so that the benefits can be realized.

This service offers so much potential for blind people, especially in households where a blind person lives alone or a blind couple live together. I can remember a time when I lived alone and this service would have been invaluable in going over some handwritten notes from college classes or pieces of mail. Even though my wife is sighted, I may well find need of this service in the days ahead. Regardless of my personal needs, I look forward to seeing this creative service taking off and wish them much success in the future.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Freedom Scientific says no to access for deaf people

The following is an account of the effort Access Ability undertook to advocate for access with one of the big names in assistive technology. Unfortunately, the steps taken were not sufficient, so perhaps others need to request action as well. If you are interested in being an advocate for change, write to the email address below.

It is very sad that Freedom Scientific (FS), the company that manufactures JAWS and is the 800-pound gorilla of the screen reader world, does not fully acknowledge its role at making access to information a priority.

The assistive technology company began offering podcasts, which it calls
to their many users in December, 2006, using the podcasts to share information and promote new releases of their products. There are now ten podcasts posted on the dedicated FSCast page. The podcasts are hosted by Jonathan Mosen, the company’s VP of blindness hardware product management, and the topics run the gamut from interviews with technology folks to showing off how new FS products work. I’ve listened to a few of these podcasts and found them very informative.

However, I’ve looked over the page and there are no transcripts available to provide the company’s deaf customers with the material covered in their podcasts.

What’s that you say…Freedom Scientific has deaf customers?

Of course they do.

Doing a search on the company’s web site for the word “deaf” returns 48 pages hosted on their site. There is a May, 2001 article where they trumpeted their Comm Light product. On top of that, in June of 2005 Freedom Scientific heralded their new deaf-blind solutions based on their PacMate product. Perhaps by showing the evolution of the PacMate into a deafblind product was the company’s insight, showing just how sensitive they were to the needs of their deafblind customers.

So, it is well established that Freedom Scientific has deaf consumers of their products and the company is aware of this consumer base. Additionally, they have been aware of these consumers for several years.

On Sept. 11, 2007, I wrote an email to Freedom Scientific, sending it to
the email address given at the end of the podcast, inquiring about the absence of transcripts on the FSCast page. I explained: “The transcripts allow people who are deaf to gain the informational content of the podcast, even if the person is unable to take in the audio of such. Being there are some users of JAWS who are deafblind and use JAWS with a braille display, these consumers would be a prime beneficiary of these transcripts.”

I then noted the absence of such transcripts on the FSCast page and inquired whether these would be available in coming days.

Finally, I offered examples of two podcast sites that make use of transcripts and do so in different fashions, so that whomever read my email would be able to see that options do exist to make audio accessible. These sites were:
the Disability 411 podcast
And the
Day in Washington podcast.
(For an alternative version of transcrips, Freedom Scientific could also look to
The Disability Nation podcast
For guidance.)

I promptly received a reply from Mr. Mosen. He said that because podcasting wasn’t the company’s core business, he wasn’t certain that they had the resources to make FSCast transcripts available. He did elaborate about the efforts the company took to ensure complete access to training materials and their newsletter.

I think he missed my point, though.

To buttress his case, Mr. Mosen detailed how much time and work went into production of their latest book on Windows Vista where the audio was synchronized with the full text of the document. He followed this by explaining that because that particular process took a “long, long time to produce though, and we couldn't do this on a monthly basis for a programme that runs to 90 minutes.”

In my inquiry, I never asked them to provide a synchronized transcript that kept up with the audio. I pointed out two sites that provide just simple html transcripts, each in a different manner. All I asked was that Freedom Scientific provide their deaf consumers an accessible format of the useful and informative FSCast material that they provide to all their hearing consumers.

I did reply to Mr. Mosen again, emphasizing, “I believe providing FSCast transcripts would be an insightful effort on your company's part, embodying true understanding of your consumers needs.” I have waited a few weeks to write this post to allow him time to acknowledge my second suggestion or to work up some form of transcripts. However, I’ve not heard back from him nor are there any transcripts available on the FSCast site. Also, the tenth FSCast has been posted since my original correspondence. (There were only nine FSCasts when I began my original inquiry.)

I once coined the phrase, “If you’re not including somebody, then you’re excluding them.” That statement is true here. Freedom Scientific is excluding their deaf consumers. When it comes to podcasts, Freedom Scientific, a company that is recognized for their ability to provide access throws up a big, flashing sign that reads, “No deaf people allowed.”