Thursday, October 23, 2008

Call to advocacy for accessible information

I just received the following in an email from The Victor Reader Stream Newswire and felt it needed to be shared. It is a call for users and providers to raise your voice and be heard by contacting your country's representative to the WIPO. Hurry, though, as they will meet in ten days!

Message from the DAISY Consortium...

Dear DAISY Members and Friends,

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) will be considering a copyright treaty proposed by the World Blind Union (WBU) at the WIPO November 3 Standing Committee Meeting. The treaty, called "WIPO Treaty for Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons" is available online at:

We are asking all of you to contact your country's representative who will
be attending the WIPO Standing Committee meeting and advocate in favor of this draft treaty. We need you to act now, because the meeting will take place in ten days.

Information and links to supporting documents are provided immediately below in this email. We also offer some guidance on who to contact in your country and some assistance finding the right person.

On the front page of the DAISY Website under "Recent News" is the link to an article that provides further detail. It also contains links to the draft treaty in HTML, DAISY 2.02, and in DAISY 3. DAISY home page:

Direct link to the news entry:

The WIPO Standing Committee will be meeting November 3-7, 2008 and the WBU proposed treaty is the first substantive item on the agenda. The agenda can be found at:

DAISY Members and Friends should send their email letter in support of the proposed treaty to the department/minister that is going to represent their government in the SCCR/WIPO meeting. This information can normally be found within the department of foreign affairs and education in your country. If anybody has difficulties finding their SCCR representative we have provided names of those who attended the last meeting. This can be found at:

If you are unable to find the name of the representative in your country at the link provided above, please contact Judit Rius Sanjuan

and/or Thiru Balasubramaniam

The treaty proposal put forward by the WBU is an extremely important document which addresses information access on an international level. We suggest you familiarize yourself with the proposal, and ask that each of you contact the government representative in your country who will attend the SCCR/WIPO meeting. Background and talking points are available at:


George Kerscher, Secretary General, DAISY Consortium
George Kerscher Ph.D.
Access to information is a fundamental human right in our Information Age.

Senior Officer, Accessible Information
Recording For the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D)

Secretary General, DAISY Consortium

Co-chair Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), a division of the W3C

Board Representative to the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hybrid Assistive Limb is a lifestyle changer

Its not quite the Six Million Dollar Man, but we’re getting there.

There is a new exoskeleton called the
Hybrid Assistive Limb,
or HAL, which uses censors on the skin connected to electric motors to increase the user’s strength tenfold.

It works by using sensors applied to the skin that detect the faint electrical currents sent by the brain through the nervous system when it commands a particular activity. These sensors are connected to a computer that interprets the signal and then sends its own command to electric leg and arm braces. Upon detection of the appropriate electrical nerve signal, HAL moves a split-second before the leg muscle itself.

The exoskeleton is being marketed and leased as a rehabilitation tool. That’s a great start, but the ability to add strength times ten to limbs which are not usually cabable of normal power just screams out to me that this would be a lifestyle changer to many. Just think about the difference this can make to people with limited motor strength or to people who are weakened by aging. I’d bet they would think this product was worth six million dollars.

One question I might have concerns the HAL's use with people who have central nervous disorders. Being it relies on nerve impulses, I would think that this might preclude its use for that population. However, despite that one holdback, HAL still fits a broad category of people who would probably find it a great difference maker in their lives.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Blind Sight: A camera for visually impaired people

In the time before I became blind, I always had a camera around. Since my accident, that hasn’t changed. These later cameras were usually for capturing images that could be later shared with those of the light-dependent persuasion, but it was also a method for grabbing some memories for myself. The thing was, the pictures were always only as good to me as the descriptive abilities of the person telling me about them.

In my experience, most blind people tend to use cameras, which I do think is interesting. Even though we can’t see the photos, we do like to have them to capture special moments and share with family and friends.

Somebody else has taken note of that and worked to create
Touch Sight: a camera for the blind.

I originally learned about this product through an email, but looked it up online. Here’s some information from the web site.

“Touch Sight is a revolutionary digital camera designed for visually impaired people. Simple features make it easy to use, including a unique feature which records sound for three seconds after pressing the shutter button. The user can then use the sound as reference when reviewing and managing the photos.
Touch Sight does not have an LCD but instead has a lightweight, flexible Braille display sheet which displays a 3D image by embossing the surface, allowing the user to touch their photo. The sound file and picture document combine to become a touchable photo that is saved in the device and can be uploaded to share with others–and downloaded to other Touch Sight cameras.”

One interesting aspect discovered by Chueh in his research is that holding the camera to the forehead is the optimal position for this device. He discovered that “at the Beit Ha’iver (Center for the Blind) in Herzliya, Israel, the instructor who teaches a photography course for the visually impaired discovered that holding the camera to the forehead, like a third eye, is the best way for them to stabilize and aim the camera. The instructor also found the visually impaired have no problems estimating distances, since their sense of hearing is especially sharp. Every rustle of wind in the trees catches their attention and can be used to judge distances. Other senses come into play as well. The heat of the sun or a lamp in a living room, for example, signals a direct source of light. They regularly use their non-visual senses to feel the world and manifest it into a mental photograph.”

After reading that information, there are some thoughts that occur to me about this camera.

*The sound recording is a good idea to give a contextual reference to the picture. I’m not sure that three seconds gives enough time to say much, but I’m certain that can be tweaked in future revisions of the product. And, the recorder being activated with the shutter means the person taking the picture needs to think about what to say before engaging the shutter.

*I like the ability to share the files. It might mean uploading the files for others to share, but wouldn’t it be great if it included BlueTooth by design?

*The display with refreshable Braille makes me think this will not be cheap. Given the cost of existing Braille displays for electronics, I shudder to think what this will mean for the price of this device.

*And, being that cameras take only two-dimensional photos, I’m supposing there will be some limitations of the pictures that this camera can render and display in Braille. Unless the Braille display gives some depth in the height of the cells, there will be no depth perception, but only a raised line drawing.

Still, this is a big leap in a direction that might seem contrary to most folks. Then again, most folks haven’t been around gatherings of blind people such as annual conventions of the national blindness advocacy groups or at classes at the various guide dog schools. If so, they would know that blind people often have and use cameras, even if they can’t see the pictures they take. That might be history as this product evolves.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Happy Rebirth Day; A matter of attitude

Okay, I’ve already acknowledged today’s date in my first post. For anybody who doesn’t know me, today is personally significant to me. It was this date, 15 years ago, that changed my life forever. It is the reason I’m writing this blog today. It is the day I was involved in an auto accident that blinded me and caused a ripple of events in my life that changed the way I do so many things.

Today is also the day I mark as my rebirth day. I was reborn that day in almost every aspect, short of a trip down the birth canal. I had to learn to walk and talk again after a two-month coma. I had to learn how to eat again, only this time I couldn’t look at my food as I got it onto the fork or spoon—a real feat when eating jello for the first time! I also had the chance to rethink my education and career choices. It was a freedom to start all over again and that is how I saw the events in my life, a real opportunity.

I truly believe it is that attitude of seeing that change in my life as an opportunity, not a curse, that has led me to find the level of fulfillment and success in life that I have. I’ve had many academic and personal achievements, but the best thing I’ve done is to find my wife of almost ten years as the result of that fateful day.

I am very happily married to a darling woman and we have the best 6-year-old son anybody could hope to have. I might add that I never would have met my wife if I hadn’t been through the changes of 15 years ago. I was speaking at a youth conference and talking about making good choices following my accident, and she came up to me afterward to follow up on something I had said about learning how to cook while blind. She is a high school Foods teacher and had a 10th grade student who was blind and wanting to learn how to cook. On that day, more than 11 years ago, we began a strong friendship that is the foundation for our marriage today.

The day of my accident, October 9, 1993, isn’t only significant to me. It was also the same day that
Marcus Engel,
A young Missouri man in his first semester of college,was also involved in an auto accident. Marcus went through more surgeries in the next year and a half, most of these above the neck, repairing the effects of a drunk driver when he struck the vehicle Marcus was traveling in.

No matter how good those surgeons were, though, they couldn’t save Marcus’ sight. Yes, that’s correct…he was blinded in an auto accident on the very same night I was. We were in accidents separated by a couple of states and about three hours, but our fates were joined on that same date.

And, continuing down that idea of fated pathways, we met about a year and a half later, when we were both at
The Seeing Eye,
In Morristown, New Jersey, getting our first guide dogs together.

We became friends and created a bond there that has kept us in touch with each other in many ways since then and I continue to count Marcus as a good friend. We have both also progressed a long way from those early days of adjusting to the blindness and the changes in our lives. We are both now married and have created well-balanced lives that I don’t think either of us could have ever foreseen 15 years ago.

In my life before that auto accident, back when I was a Texas prison supervisor, I used to tell my staff at shift briefing that the quality of their day will very likely be the result of their individual attitude. I believed that statement then, and believe it even more so today. Life really is all about attitude.

I don’t know what your plans for today are, but I will go out with my wife and son this evening and celebrate today. For me, it is special, but, then again, that is just my attitude.

Getting back into the groove

Today is October 9, exactly one full month since I made a regular, non-hurricane post here. To regular readers, I say, “I’m sorry about that prolonged absence.”

I’ve been out of sorts here. First, there was a water pipe which burst inside the guest room closet of our home that upset the apple cart. That took about a week and a half to get things situated, preparing for the repairs to the sheetrock, baseboards, and carpet. Then, this hurricane appeared and smashed that apple cart, leaving way too much in its aftermath. The hurricane set off the house repairs to our home for a few weeks, and only last week did we get our final repairs finished when the carpet company installed the new flooring.

My problem is that I am a creature of habit and work great within structure. I thrive in a routine and that’s exactly what has been lacking around here of late.

I suppose, though, since my son went back to school last Monday, and the home repairs are all finished, that it is time to get back to business here at Access Ability. So, I’ll be working to post more diligently in the coming days. I sometimes take a little effort to get going once I fall out of my routine and a month off is a long time. Bear with me, though, and we’ll get there.