Friday, November 16, 2007

AMIS and GOCR: two free assistive technology programs

I’ve got a couple of free assistive technology applications to share with you today.

My reason for sharing them is that I was reviewing the
1 Stop for Free Assistive Technology
site this morning, looking over the list of free programs. After reading what they do, these two programs sure sound like tools I could make use of.

I’ve previously posted about this web site, basically a clearinghouse of free assistive technology, here on Access Ability and it is definitely a site worth noting again.

Now, about the software…

First, I will grab
The acronym for the Adaptive multimediaInformation System.

AMIS is open source DAISY playback software that is free to download and use. So, instead of needing to purchase software to playback DAISY files, I’ll give this community-built player a whirl. If it works as it should, this can help the pocketbook of blind and visually impaired people who need to access books in the DAISY format.

Additionally, the web site has downloads of the scripts needed to make the program play nice with the JAWS screen reader.

The second piece of software I’m going to download is
“an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program, developed under the GNU Public License. It converts scanned images of text back to text files.”

After I’ve downloaded and installed these utilities, followed by a little time to familiarize and used them enough to discuss them, look back here later for reviews of these two assistive technology tools.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Collection of sources for public domain e-Books

This resource is of interest for students who need accessible books that they can carry with them in a digital format for reading on a computer or PDA. While this sounds ideal for blind or visually impaired students, it would really work for any student enrolled in many basic text classes.

Here’s a listing of more than twenty sources for
public domain e-Books.

Most of the listed sites are free, but even those that charge seem reasonably affordable. And, because the books listed are in the public domain, that tells you there aren’t going to be any of the latest best-sellers among them. However, that doesn’t mean a student couldn’t get some required reading material, such as Shakespeare or some other classic work, in an accessible format at one of these sites.

Updated: Latest news about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007

The most pressing news to share today is that there is a celebration of support planned tomorrow in Washington D.C. to show solidarity for the Restoration of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those gathered will also welcome back the Road to Freedom bus.

Senator Tom Harkin will join other supporters from 11 am – 1 pm at the U.S. Capitol to mark the return of the year-long, 50-state bus tour and traveling exhibit. In that year, the bus has logged more than 25,000 miles and made more than 100 bus stop events.

Then, to ice the cake, there is a Senate hearing on the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 at 2 pm.

Below are details from the news release:

November 15, 2007
11:00 AM - 1:00 PM:
Bus and Exhibit of Disability Rights History, welcome from Senator Tom Harkin and Yoshiko Dart, Speakers including NCIL's John Lancaster, AAPD's Cheryl Sensenbrenner, AARP's Brewster Thackeray, CCD's Day Al-Mohamed, NDRN's Curt Decker, NCDR's Youth Advisory Committee Member Ari Ne'eman, NSCIA's Marcie Roth, ADA Watch's Jim Ward, Tom Olin and more.

2:00 PM: Senate Hearing on the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 in Room 430, Dirksen Senate Office Building

U.S. Capitol and National Mall at 3rd Street, NW

The Road To Freedom is a project of ADA Watch and the National Coalition for Disability Rights (NCDR), an alliance of hundreds of national, state and local disability, civil rights, and social justice organizations united to defend and promote the civil rights of children and adults with physical, mental,
cognitive, sensory and developmental disabilities.

For more information go to:

and for tour photos, go to:

Major sponsors of Road To Freedom educational activities include Open Society Institute, IndependenceFirst, AARP, AOL, Bruce Hornsby, Ted Leonsis Foundation, Dircks & Associates, Browser Media, Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, Embassy of Austria, Embassy of Croatia, Democracy In Action, National Disability Rights Network, Sweet Honey In the Rock and more.

Special thanks to DC organizers Bobby Coward and Direct Action, DC Center for Independent Living, ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, Freedom Center, Capitol Area ADAPT and more. Thanks also to ADAPT, National Council on Independent Living, Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities, American Association of People with Disabilities, National Association of Rights Protection and Advocacy, Mind Freedom International and our state and local organizers throughout the USA.

ADA Watch/National Coalition for Disability Rights
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20004

Update: 11/16/07

Day Al-Mohamed was present at the big day’s activities, and will be posting her comments about it on her
Day in Washington
web site,hopefully by this weekend.

Being these events were on Day’s home turf, and land squarely on her professional domain, I look forward to reading her impressions.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A growing collection of Cerebral Palsy resources by state

In my daily news alerts over the last few days, I’ve been noticing a near-daily listing of different states which have a listing of Cerebral Palsy resources.

I finally succumbed to my curiosity and clicked on the latest alert. This
Cerebral Palsy state resource guide
appears to be A project that is under on-going construction. It is part of the
Cerebral Palsy, Erb's Palsy & Birth Injury Blog,
Published by a Washington D.C. legal firm specializing in personal injury law.

What I was viewing in my news alerts were the state-by-state updates that were occurring on the blog.

At this time, there are listings for Alabama, Alaska , Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, and Connecticut. Do you see an alphabetical trend here? I feel certain more are to come until the entire country is represented. It is apparently drawing upon United Cerebral Palsy’s gathering of information, but when completed, this site will be like an encyclopedia and have the whole set.

While one may really only require the resources for the state where you live, I still think that this site will serve as a great resource compendium for any professional in the disability services field when it is completed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Music Within is our movie

I just read an interesting aside about the movie
Music Within
USA Today.

The article linked above profiles Richard Pimentel, who is the focus of Music Within. The biopic brings to light the role he played in the disability rights movement.

Pimentel returned home virtually deaf after an explosion during the Viet Nam war. What followed after that experience led to Pimentel becoming an activist, which grew and drew more attention to his cause.

What I really like about the brief article is that it illustrates that nobody originally sets out to be an advocate of change. It is a role that is thrust upon you.

As Tony Coelho,the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, said, “It’s the first movie about the ADA movement.”

For anybody who lives with a disability, this is our movie. Keep Music Within on your “To see” list.

Yahoo acknowledges inaccessible content, yet still fails to innovate

Well, if this doesn’t take the cake.

I have posted on Access Ability previously about
Yahoo’s inaccessible CAPTCHA,
those distorted letters and numbers that appear in a graphic and require the user to type them into an edit field to prove there is a human on their end of the computer and not some spam robot. Screen readers like the one I use, JAWS, do not recognize these images and Yahoo has been unwilling to present an accessible solution, of which several varieties already exist on different web sites.

It is as if Yahoo is sticking their head in the sand and ignoring the mere existence of blind computer users and their need for accessible web content. Maybe that is part of the grand Yahoo master plan, just play dumb and we can offer that as our defense.

I personally know, as of today, for a fact that Yahoo can not plead ignorance. (Its not like they really could, given the public outcry and awareness that has been raised over the past few months by advocates such as Darrell Shandrow at
The Blind Access Journal
Over inaccessible CAPTCHA.)

How did I find out that Yahoo knows blind people exist? Let me explain...

I use a Yahoo mail account for email and news alerts pertaining to this blog, and while signing in to my Yahoo account this morning, I was prompted to upgrade to the “ALL-NEW Yahoo! Mail.” In the pitch, I was told that I should “Be a better pal!” This was followed by claims that “We've built a better Yahoo! Mail, so upgrade to the all-new faster and easier version,” and given a list of what was better about their new service.

This all sounds really good, but below that list was the following message in a link:
“Unfortunately the new Yahoo! Mail doesn't currently work with screen readers. Until then, please return to Yahoo! Mail Classic.”

So, Yahoo acknowledges that they recognize there are blind people using their site and products. And, this includes me, as I was being personally directed to go back to Classic mode. Furthermore, they grant that their “ALL-NEW” and “better” Yahoo doesn’t work with screen readers. And, put this all together and Yahoo is saying blind people can’t be “better pals,” at least not if Yahoo has anything to say about it.

This means that one day, if Yahoo decides to make this much ballyhooed product accessible to screen readers, it will be a retrofit used to provide a virtual on-ramp that blind people can use onto this information superhighway, instead of having built in accessibility from the beginning. I just find it disgusting that people like the developers who make these products that can be designed with accessibility from the beginning, choose not to even attempt this. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a new building must include wheelchair accessibility and only older buildings are allowed to retrofit. Why do information technologies not fall into some equal category for providing accessibility?

After this mornings experience, I have a question for Yahoo that comes to mind about their technologies. If you can detect that I am using a screen reader, and your company considers itself a leader and innovator of web content, then why in the world can the geniuses on your staff not incorporate the screen reader detection that I encountered today with your CAPTCHA to present an accessible method of human verification when you find a blind user is present?

This just gives me another reason to beat the awareness drum for the
Yahoo accessibility improvement petition.
If you have not yet signed the petition, please do so and help spread the news of this still on-going battle.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Raising awareness about DSS office and services

I just read a good news article describing how a
Michigan community college is accommodating students with learning disabilities.

No, the school is not doing anything earth-shattering or new. As a matter of fact, they are doing the same job you are doing, serving the population of students with disabilities.

The reason I’m linking to it here is that this article highlights the community support that is critical to raise awareness of the roles of DSS counselors. It shows how an alliance with the local media can help spread information about the services offered by your office. Given the need for students to self identify, I believe we all know of students who can be aided by just knowing that help is out here.

What about your office, do you have an alliance with the local newspaper? If not, don’t wait for them to call you; initiate contact yourself. Line up your resources. This might include a student success story like the above article, letting one of your shining stars get some well-deserved attention. Or you might want to begin with news about a new program your office is beginning, then segueing to share more information about your office and what services you provide. Whatever it takes, some good press never hurts to raise awareness, letting somebody learn about your office that might not otherwise know of help that is readily out here.