Saturday, December 30, 2006

Open Culture-- another source for alternative texts

Happy New Year!

As a gift for the new year, I want to share a resource for finding free-to-download audio versions of some classics required by many lit classes.
Open Culture: Audiobook Podcast Collection
is a blog edited by Dan Colman, the Associate Dean of Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University.

The mission statement of Open Culture reads as follows:
• To explore the best of contemporary intellectual life.
• To connect users with free, high-quality online media -- podcasts, videos, online courses, etc. -- that makes learning dynamic, convenient and fun.
• To keep users apprised of new cultural developments and resources worth their limited time.

The site offers links to other sites where users may download the audio versions of many undergrad-required literary classics including Robinson Crusoe, Plato’s The Republic, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, as well as many others. Additionally, the site also has a good foundation of university podcast resources. While it is a fairly new site, this blog offers a lot of future potential for becoming an additional tool in the tool box of DSS coordinators needing alternative versions of texts.

The site is one where a student can go and download their own alternative text, store it on their computer or audio player, and read it when they are ready.

Granted, the audio version of these classics are just as easily obtained by ordering from some of the conventional sources at your DSS office’s disposal. However, isn’t the goal to empower the students by showing them the resource and to teach them to manage these as their own? It is in this light that I offer the freshly launched blog Open Culture.

So, take a few minutes and click the above link. Peruse the Open Culture web site. Look over the different resources and bookmark the site to come back to later. The site also offers an email update to keep up on the latest information the editor posts.

(Thanks to
The Ranger Station
For this useful resource.)

I hope 2007 brings many good wishes your way. Here’s to an accessible new year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pending legislation would require restroom access

. What happens to a person whose medical condition requires quick access to a restroom and that person is out at a public business where there is only an employee’s restroom available?

A 10-year old girl with ulcerative colitis is lobbying behind a piece of legislation which will be filed today for review by the next session of the Texas legislature which will address this specific scenario. The bill, would allow people with the girl’s condition or Crohn's disease, who often have medical concerns which require them to gain quick access to restrooms, to use restroom facilities that are otherwise designated “Employees Only” of a business.

The pending legislation will address this concern and, if approved, would require all Texas businesses to allow people who have a pressing medical concern to have access to the business’ employees restroom if no public restroom is available.

According to the
in today’s Austin American Statesman :
“A proposal to be filed today by state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, would have Texas imitate Illinois and Maryland by mandating access to employee-only restrooms for anyone with a pressing medical condition, including pregnancy. Customers making the request would be expected to present a physician's statement or identification card stating the medical condition. “

This pending legislation raises an issue of access which many of us don’t even think about unless a more common bout of stomach distention arises. However, when somebody has a chronic medical condition that makes access to a restroom potentially omnipresent, then there is a need and the legislation needs to be considered and approved.

Texas legislators, when this bill comes before you, please do the right thing.

(Note: The Austin American Statesman web site requires registration to read this article, but the process is quick and painless. The article is definitely worth reading.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Internet cafe for people with disabilities

Kudos to Goodwill Industries of San Antonio for opening an
internet café for people with disabilities.

In many ways, the Good Bytes Café looks like many other internet cafes, but the shop’s computers also include assistive hardware and software such as screen magnifiers, joystick mice, and the equipment to have eye movements replicate mouse actions. This is a good idea that provides access in the community where none has previously existed for people with disabilities. The expensive cost of providing the access tools is covered by Goodwill via a grant from AT&T. The café will also be supported through food sales with labor provided by Goodwill’s disabled food service trainees.

I admit the concept is very novel and innovative, but the reasons given by Goodwill for starting the café leave me scratching my head a bit. According to the linked news article above, they say that there is a correlation between the 70% unemployment rate of the area’s people with disabilities and that 60% of that population do not have computer skills. Shouldn’t the call be for providing computer training instead of a public access point where the users would be expected to come in already possessing some level of computer competence?

Still, I’m not knocking the idea. This is a great step forward in providing accessibility. It goes hand in hand with other pieces of a much larger picture. It also provides a work training location for Goodwill to let their consumers get real work experience that can serve as a launchpad to another position.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Review of IE7 and JAWS 8.0

I’ve recently upgraded to using JAWS 8.0 and also began using Internet Explorer 7. After briefly using both of these upgraded products, I’d like to share my initial thoughts about each.

I understand that the timeliness of this review of these two applications is behind those that other reviewers have offered, but I’ve not had access to the Beta versions of either of these products. I will also disclose that I chose not to install the JAWS 7.1 upgrade due to reported bugs in the initial launch of the free upgrade. This review is presented here to share my insights to what both of these applications can do.

Internet Explorer 7:
IE7 is an application most of us will have to live with at one time or another. Being able to adopt the new interfaced web browser at a time close to its initial launch will help users familiarize themselves with it for the long haul. The browser incorporates some features that seem like major changes but really aren’t and also employs some of the latest advances in browsing that are definite changes.

New Interface:
My comments about the new interface will be limited in scope. Being I’m totally blind really limits my assessment of this aspect. However, any blind user who has been used to performing functions in the program by way of the menu bars will notice that the menu bar does not appear to be there. (See, that change in the interface is so obvious that a blind man can see it!) However, This is the primary feature that seems to be changed, but really is not.

People, who loved to use the menu items, and especially those who rely on keystroke shortcuts to manipulate these menu items, needn’t despair. These features, such as edit and favorites are still there by pressing the alt+e and alt+a key combinations respectively. If one is used to using a mouse to access these, pressing the alt key once opens up the File menu in a drop down box. Pressing alt+f does the same thing. Users can just move over one menu at a time and work your way down just as in earlier editions of IE. And, yes, all your favorites from earlier versions of IE are still stored here.

(Note to computer users who use the keyboard to surf the internet: Using keystroke commands like Control+O to open a new web page are still the same.)

Tab Browsing:
Users of the Mozilla Firefox browser are already familiar with this nifty feature, but it is truly new for Microsoft. This feature lets you load a page by clicking on the link, but also keeps your main window of focus on the page you are viewing. It loads the page and has it ready for your reading without taking you out of your regular window until you are ready to move. Of course, you can just click on the link and open it up if you are ready to move on and leave the site you were on.

Where tab browsing proves really useful are web sites where one is reading something with several items the reader wants to explore, such as a newspaper. I usually read the Houston Chronicle and for ease of navigating the page, I’ve been opening articles in a new window when I wanted to read them. When I finished reading that article, I’d close the story and get moved back to the link on the Chronicle site where I had been before reading the article. (This was my selected option on how to read the Chronicle due to the site’s dynamic content resetting when I would use the “Back” command that would put me at the top of the page. I would then have to find my place on the page all over again after reading each article.

However, with tab browsing, the articles are all loaded in the same window I’m in. I can quickly skim through the Chronicle’s news page, press Control+Enter on each article I want to read and never leave the news page. Meanwhile, all the stories I want to read are loaded and waiting for me to read. I use the Control+Tab command to move from the news page to the first article I have loaded. When I’m finished reading the story, I press Control+F4 and that article closes and I’m placed on the next article I have loaded. This technique also saves the time spent waiting for pages to load.

Another sharp and useful feature of tab browsing is that a user can have more than one web site load when IE7 is launched. For instance, if you have your college’s web site set as your home page, but frequently refer to another page that offers a list of resources, such as the AHEAD site, you can have both these sites load at the opening of IE7. As far as I can tell, there is no set limit to how many pages one can set in this mode. Shifting from one site to the other is done by simply pressing the Control+Tab command until the desired site is in view. In my last position, this would have been useful as I used the college’s site as my home page, but also frequently went to the AHEAD site and also liked to read the news headlines in the Chronicle, so I could have had all three sites load at the launch of IE if version 7 were around then and had been accessible.

IE7 has incorporated a nifty search feature that is both functional and customizable to the individual user’s preference. The user originally setting up the browser is prompted to choose which search engine is the default and IE7 stores that information. What is even better is that to access the search engine, the user does not have to go to the web site of the search engine. Just go to the address bar and type in what you want and IE7 delivers your engine’s search returns.

Personally, I’m a Google fan and don’t like my choices mess with. So, I was very pleased when I tried this search feature and found that the results are brought up in the normal Google returns, not some model where the Google returns are just a framed portion of a larger screen.

Increased Security:
Microsoft has taken a lot of hits about the vulnerabilities in its flagship browser in the past and has sought to remedy that in its latest offering. One of the things they are offering is to indicate when a web site is suspect for phishing, sites where unwary web users are tricked into revealing personal information such as social security or, credit card, and bank account numbers. I haven’t tried to find any flaw with this and don’t visit too many suspect sites, so can’t offer an opinion on this aspect of IE7.

JAWS 8.0:
My initial thoughts about the latest version of JAWS all come back to the fact that it gives me full access to IE7. However, there are a few notable changes worth mentioning as well.

Virtual Window and Virtualized Current Command.
The concept of “virtual” is one that has been around for some time in tech circles, but not one that I’ve heard easily explained in a non-techie language. What this does is take an active control window and let you select and copy all the text from a message window into a document or email. The best application of this would be for error messages that give some string of alpha-numeric data that some geek on tech support might ask you for if calling for help. Now, with this virtual feature, users of JAWS can grab that information and put into an accessible document just as easily as sighted folks would do with a notepad and pencil.

Expanded JAWS Find.
This feature lets JAWS store the last 20 terms you have had used via the JAWS search command. It is extremely helpful in getting past superfluous headings on web sites that you frequent often and need to search for more than one term. The emphasis here is that you visit frequently, as your search will be as good as knowing what you are looking for.

New Keyboard Commands:
There are some new keystroke commands for JAWS users to learn, especially when using IE7. Adding these to the repertoire you already use regularly should come without any major problems.

All in all, JAWS 8.0 seems to be a smooth transition from the previous edition and gives full access to IE7. It feels like I haven’t changed anything and have even more access to information than I had before.

(Note: If you do not have an SMA to go to 8.0, but are running JAWS 7.0, know that Freedom Scientific made the upgrade to 7.1 a free upgrade, and the latest version of this includes a patch that allows 7.1 to access IE7.)

While this is perhaps behind the curve of the web offerings for reviews, I hope these insights are still timely and valid. They are only my initial thoughts and may grow over time. If so, I’ll share those here as well.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Disability 411 blog

Beth Case, of the North Harris Montgomery County College District, is arguably one of the most respected and recognized names among DSS coordinators in Texas. She is a tireless and innovative advocate for students with disabilities. She initiated the
Disability 411 podcast
At a time when most people’s understanding of what a podcast was had something to do with the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

In her latest outreach effort of information and resource sharing, Beth continues to expand networking efforts with the launch of the
Disability 411 blog.

The site informs,
“This is the blog that accompanies the Disability411 podcast, which can be found at These are not show notes, but additional information and thoughts to enhance the podcast.”

In the field of DSS, a world where knowing your resources is so important, Accessability proudly welcomes Beth’s continuously expanding horizons. We welcome the valuable insight and wealth of experience the Disability 411 blog will certainly offer in the future.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pepnet has a new face, same mission

At the AHEAD in Texas conference, I attended a breakout session about
The Postsecondary Education Programs Network. I was already familiar with the organization providing resources for services to the deaf and hard of hearing through my recent position, but learned a good bit more about it here.

There are now state clusters being served by the regional centers. Most clusters have three or four states, but because of Texas’ size, we are in a cluster with only one other state, Louisiana.

The breakout session was hosted by previous coordinator Beth Case, and turned over to Jenny, the new coordinator of our bluster. Jenny is the coordinator of the deaf and hard of hearing program at Louisiana State University. They emphasized that this is a new grant cycle and Jenny wants to hear from DSS coordinators on what concerns you have and also what you need to have in order to do your job more effectively. They want to hear from you.

She said one of the changes in Pepnet is that they are eyeing more cost effective methods of delivering outreach programs. This will include video conferencing instead of physical visits to campuses, which would also let Pepnet reach several campuses simultaneously instead of just one. She said other means they are considering to achieve more cost effective delivery are on-line chats, webcasts, and conferencing

Jenny stressed that while she is a new face in this position, the goals of Pepnet remain the same. These include providing technical assistance to postsecondary schools, doing independent living, doing career guidance with high school students, and working on a technical assistance network. She said she does a lot of tech assistance by IM, email, and phone. If she does not know the answer, she has five other coordinators to call upon. If the request is for local resources, she said she will go to people like Beth to help give her guidance.

There was good audience participation in discussing topics related to services to the deaf, including comparison of VRS and VRI, and balancing the use of CART and interpreters to best meet the needs of the student as well as the school. One of the points that the discussion highlighted was the shortage and need for qualified interpreters.

Much of the presentation hammered home the need to treat students as individuals. The student may read at a 5th grade level, which is above that required for CART services, but what if the student reads slowly? The student may do well with CART in one class and be better served in another class by an interpreter. Beth summed up that point by encouraging coordinators to not get locked in in offering only one service, but find what works best for the student in each setting. Jenny added that doing this helps manage the precious interpreter resources.

If you provide services to deaf students, it would serve you well to check out the Pepnet website. While there, sign up for the Pepnet Perspectives newsletter for the latest information from the group.

Access innovations in cell phones

Two advances in the world of cell phones may further empower students with disabilities in coming days.

First, a group of researchers in IBM’s Hampshire, England lab have created
LAMA, or Location Aware Messaging for Accessibility,
a service that will stream information in an accessible format over a user’s cell phone. This application would put PA announcements in busy places such as airports, train stations, or hospitals, into text format for hearing impaired users. This system can also be used to alert hearing impaired users to fire alarms, which was the original concept for its inception.

It’s easy to see how such a system might be integrated with a university’s fire alarm system and be able to instantly notify hearing impaired students or faculty of the emergency status in an effective and timely manner.

According to the original BBC news article, people with other disabilities may be able to use the application as well. Information that is printed may be transmitted in an audio format to somebody who is visually impaired.

The second piece of cell phone news is from Korea. However, if they are able to do this there, why not on a more global basis?

This cell phone is directed at people with either a visual impairment or dyslexia, according to the original article. LG Electronics has created a cell phone with the ability to
play and store audio books.
The phone requires users to submit government certification of their disability at the purchasing site. Once users have the phone, they can download books from the LG Electronics website.

Interesting concept there, LG.

While these two advents on cell phones may or may not be practical applications that aren’t already being provided by other items, like maybe , audio books on portable mp3 players, they do indicate that electronic firms are trying to innovate change in the world of access.

These two applications are not in the mainstream US market yet, but are a couple of access items to be aware of in the coming months.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On-line enrollment trends re-emphasize need for accessibility

It probably comes as no surprise that the
number of on-line students is increasing.

According to the ARS Technica news article linked above, there were approximately 3.2 million students who took at least one on-line class in the Fall 2005 semester. That is a jump of more than 1 million students compared to the same semester one year earlier.

With that fact in mind, it is imperative to make on-line learning accessible.

It takes a stronger sense of self discipline for students to achieve success in on-line classes. I would tend to think this sense can only be complicated when the students have a disability, much less when they encounter an inaccessible on-line class. If a student has a disability and the material is not in a format that provides access, he/she will spend valuable time attempting to resolve the technological dysfunction. The time to do this will take away from the already-tight time schedule the student has, trying to fix what should have already been fixed.

The increase is a trend that is very likely to continue for years to come. It re-emphasizes the points that noted ADA legal expert Salome Heyward made during her presentation at the AHEAD in Texas conference:

1. It is not just web access that needs to concern colleges and universities. The schools need to begin by looking closely at the contracts they are signing with vendors providing on-line material like WebCT and WebAssign.
2. Pay attention to the issue of access before signing the contract.

3. School administration needs to be aware of access concerns before they sign and commit the school.
4. If the administrators overseeing the contracts are not aware of access concerns, it is the duty of the ADA Coordinator/ DSS Coordinator to make them aware.

5. On-line programs such as WebCT and WebAssign are as accessible as they are designed to be. They can be made to be accessible.
6. Other items posted to these sites, such as lecture notes from individual professors, need to be put into an accessible format if they are not already in such.

As DSS cordinator, you can use your resources within AHEAD to help connect your school to experts to guide in this area. Like so many other things, it is all about knowing your resources.

What's New in JAWS 8

If you've been wondering what the latest and greatest version of JAWS has in store, wonder no more. What’s New in JAWS 8 is now available. This is a downloadable zip file containing 10 mp3 files. In these audio files, two JAWS techies discuss each of the new features in JAWS 8

The file can be downloaded at the
JAWS Headquarters
web site. A quick head’s up—the file is 60 Mb.

The ten files are:
*1 Introduction
*2 Start Up Wizard
*3 Manage Application Settings
*4 Say All SAPI 5
*5 Alternate Say All
*6 Web Resources
*7 Smart Word Reading
*8 IE7 Tips and Tricks
*9 JAWS Find
10* Virtualize Window Controller Frame

You will notice that the one file indicates the SAPI5 speech engine. Freedom Scientific is including a CD of SAPI5 voice files to use when using the “Say All” command. (However, if you download JAWS 8 from the web, you will not get the files.) If you are using the “Say All” command as it has been used in the past and have installed the SAPI files, you will hear it read in the more human-sounding voice that the SAPI speech engine provides. Hence, you’ll also note there is also the file for “Alternate Say All,” which will let you continue using the normal JAWS Eloquence speech engine for using the “Say All” command.

I’ve almost completed listening to the What’s New files. On a personal note, I have to say that the advances that bring access to Internet Explorer 7 are the most intriguing aspect of JAWS 8 and have me very eager for this update. I believe IE7 will make using the web a lot more enjoyable and JAWS 8 is what is going to make that accessible.

If past behavior is any indicator, posting the What’s New files on-line means the new version is within 1-2 weeks of being shipped. This would also agree with what the Freedom Scientific rep told me this past week at the AHEAD in Texas conference.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Post-conference thoughts; RFB&D going digital...soon!

I have just returned from the AHEAD in Texas annual fall conference, held last week in San Marcos. It was good to spend time with some old friends and co-workers to discuss current issues facing the DSS field.

Overall, I enjoyed myself and networked with some sharp professionals in the field. I am still sorting through the notes and information I gathered on the trip. When I have made progress towards this end, I will post some of this information here.

There is one thing in particular that I learned about and want to make sure you are aware of. If you or your institution are subscribers to
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic
Or RFB&D, as they are commonly called, make sure that you note the date when they are going digital.

As of July, 2007, the books provided by RFB&D will only be available in the DAISY digital audio format. This means that the 4-track cassette players you or your students have will no longer play books from RFB&D after that date.

The discontinuation of cassette tapes is a move that has been in progress for a couple of years, but is quickly approaching full fruition. The advent of digital technology has brought the service provided by this organization to the modern age.
If you still have 4-track cassette players sitting around your office, , don’t despair. There may still be a need for them, because the Texas State Library, which also provides talking books for those with print disabilities is not converting its library to a digital file format. They will still continue using 4-track cassette tapes, so those highly specialized players you have may still be of some use.

However, if you continue using RFB&D as a provider of books in an accessible format, you will need a DAISY reader, if you don’t already have one. These players are available in both software and hardware versions.

I’ll be back here soon to post information and thoughts from the AHEAD in Texas conference.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Combatting Autism Act of 2006

The fight for funding for autism research is on-going.

A news article in today’s Houston Chronicle about the
Combatting Autism Act
also contains some good statistical information about the explosive growth in diagnoses of children with autism spectrum disorders.

Does the six-fold increase in nine years documented by the Centers for Disease Control mean better diagnoses are being performed or that there are more children being born with the disease? You and I are not experts, and the only way to find out possible answers to that question is to conduct more research to understand what is going on.

If you haven’t heard of the Combatting Autism Act, , then take a little time to read the article and enlighten yourself. While reading that, note the number of Americans with autism—1.5 million. Yes, that’s accounting for the whole spectrum, but some of these people are or will someday be attending college classes.

If your office’s caseload has not been impacted yet, hang on. I predict the growth in these diagnoses will impact all DSS offices in coming years, no matter what the outcome of the Combatting Autism Act is.

Disability is no reason not to vote

With the 2006 election season climaxing next week, it is imperative that we all get out and vote. If you are a registered voter and have not voted early, remember to do so on Tuesday. With the advents in physical and technological access to the polls, there is no reason for anybody of voting age not to use this right so many Americans have given their lives to protect.

This year’s election is supposed to have a good number of the electronic voting machines in place. These machines were originally intended to automate and simplify the voting process so we might all avoid a repeat of the hanging chad showdown of the 2000 presidential elections. However these machines were also heralded as revolutionary because they also had the ability to employ a screen reader and let the blind voters cast their secret ballot independently.

Personally speaking, I’ve had some experience with the electronic voting systems in the past two elections, neither of which went well and resorted to me using sighted assistance instead of the speech output that was supposed to make these devices so landmark. However, I’ll gladly work through the hassles of staff who have only cursory training on the speech technology again to have my vote count, even if we can’t get the machine to work and have to revert to a sighted person helping me.

A good discussion of the movement towards disability access at the poll is titled, “I Can’t Sing and I can’t Dance but I can vote,” written by Cass Irvin. The brief essay can be viewed at
Fred’s Head Companion,
A blog from the American Printing House for the Blind.

The bottom line is that a disability should never keep somebody from voting. There is too much legislation that affects disability programs and funding. Please encourage your students to participate in the election process.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

JAMA study on rates of suicide attempts by blacks

There is a new study being published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association that is interesting as it is the first nationally representative study of the incident rate of
suicide attempts among blacks.

According to the report:
* Nearly 70,000 blacks attempt suicide annually
*Nearly 1.4 Million Blacks or 4% attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime

That 4% lifetime rate stands out, as previous surveys had shown that 2.8% of blacks had attempted suicide at least once in their lifetime. At 4%, this is similar to rates among whites.

This research flies in the face of other work that has shown lifetime rates among whites was nearly twice that of blacks.

Make what you want of these statistics. I offer them here for discussion and, hopefully, to stimulate thought.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Keyboard Guides available for Internet Explorer 7

Change is expected and with technology, it is most certain.

Internet Explorer 7 is available now and, as I’ve cautioned previously, incompatible with older versions of assistive technology. However, we will all eventually switch to the safer and more advanced IE7 whether we want to or not.

The redesign of IE7 has included new keystroke commands that will impact the way users of screen readers navigate the browser. If you want a peek at some of the new keystroke combinationss, go to the post by Kelly Ford on the IEBlog at:

Then, if you want more, check out The Keyboard Lover’s Guide to IE7 at:

I've looked over these guides, and as a keyboard user for nine years, all I can say right now is, ”Oh boy!” (Note that is a feeling of dread, not excitement causing that exclamation mark.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gallaudet University update...board rejects incoming president

To update you,
Gallaudet University's Board has voted to search for a new president.
This means the student protests over the past three weeks were successful and, in response, the board has Rejected Incoming President Jane Fernandes.

There is still something to be said for student activism and standing up for what one is passionate about in today's world. The students from Gallaudet, the only U.S. liberal arts college for the deaf, can testify that their voices acting in unity made a difference, and, pardon the pun, did not fall on deaf ears. It will be interesting to see which direction the search for the next university president heads.

Some thoughts on assistive technology

Forgive me if the posts in the next few weeks lean a little heavier toward access technology, but the release of Internet Explorer 7 and pending release of Windows Vista are of particular interest, and will be greatly impacting, to those who rely on screen readers and magnifiers.

I just read a very good rant/discussion about
The truth about Windows Vista and the assistive technology industry
By Ranger1138 on
The Ranger Station, a blog written by “some dude in the assistive technology field.”

Ranger1138 brings up some good points about Microsoft’s approach to accessibility, costs of assistive technology, and how Microsoft is not the big, bad evil corporation, as many allege, but has, instead, provided the Windows platform that laid the foundation for uniformity in operating systems that has given blind folks the ability to use assistive technology to market themselves in the workplace today.

Another aspect of assistive technology I want to throw out today is open source. Are you familiar with open source software? It is a community approach to software development and has led to many innovations in the computer industry. Linux is the open source operating system. The code that makes open source software work is just that, open, and lets any software engineer work with it to tweak it as part of a bigger team. The added incentive is that many open source applications are free, or nearly free.

You may not know it, but there is an open source screen reader and magnifier program called
The engineers working on the Orca project are seeking input from users on what the program needs. The engineers will base their design on the input they receive.

In the Carroll Tech blog,
All About Access,
Joanie Diggs attempts to figure out why blind computer users are not participating in this ambitious and promising project. She seems flustered that the blind people who would benefit most are not providing input for the engineers who want to build a product that the group needs.

While her argument that this model of open source development is different than the current model in how blind users acquire assistive technology may have some merit, I think that the larger group of blind computer users either do not know about Orca or do not feel that they are tech-savvy enough to install and use the software, much less provide feedback on what it needs.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Accessible World offers resources and on-line diabetes symposium

AccessAbility has recently learned of another great location for blind and visually impaired resources.
Accessible World
Has a good selection of information related to accessible computing, as well as other areas of interest to the blind and visually impaired. There is an archive of technology training podcasts and also have list-serves on various topics.

Coming up on Monday, Oct. 30, there is a training session on scanning with the OmniPage program.

With the assortment of physical complications that are associated with diabetes, it is notable that they are about to host the First International Virtual Audio online Symposium on Diabetes.

The details from their web site about this event are as follows:

Helping Hands for the Blind
and The Accessible World Symposiums have formed a partnership whose main goal is to produce the first “On-Line" Symposium on Diabetes around the world scheduled for Wednesday, November 8, 2006 from 10 A.M. to 3 P.M. PST.

We have scheduled such prominent speakers as Gretchen Becker who wrote the Book "Living with Type 2 Diabetes," Dr. Bernard Mahaver who will discuss the various drugs in use to control Diabetes, an Endocrinologist from UCLA, and Finally, Dr. Anne Williams, a noted Diabetic Educator who will discuss Research and Trends in Diabetic care. The program will be followed by a discussion period with the Audience having an opportunity to ask questions of the guests and committee members.

> To participate in this interactive online event, you will need a computer running Windows, an Internet connection, speakers, a microphone and a sound card. Various agencies serving blind and visually impaired individuals in the United States and other strategic countries will also be providing a computer and space for blind and visually impaired persons who are not computer literate or do not have a computer at home to join this symposium.
However, it must be noted that anyone who has Diabetes or knows someone who does can also join this symposium.

To access the online conference room, go to:
and select the Auditorium link.

**Note: The Helping Hands for the Blind web site linked above has more links and services that may be of interest to your vlind and visually impaired students. Most notably, Helping Hands claims to provide financial grants to blind students and also help in transportation.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gallaudet University demonstration news and links

An update on the student protest at Gallaudet University.

The demonstration against the incoming university president has now been going for more than 20 days. In the last week, several students, and faculty members who support them, walked en mass to Capitol Hill to call upon three U.S. senators who are on the university’s board, asking them to intervene on their behalf. Yesterday,
university officials brought in heavy equipment
to gain access to gates the students have taken control of to deny access to the campus.

Acording to the Associated Press story:

“Gallaudet University maintenance workers cut a chain that was being used to block a side entrance and used a construction vehicle to move a tent city the students had built, protest leaders said. Other protesters then used their cars to block the gate again.”

If you want to view images of the student unrest, Yahoo has a
slide show
chronicling the on-going protest.

A good discussion on the
sense of identity,
so strongly tied to the deaf community and central to this demonstration, is presented by Washington D.C. columnist Clarence Page. In his latest column, Page also offers a quick primer on the background of the current situation at Gallaudet.

While we should all applaud passion and students standing up for what they believe, I would predict the outcome of this demonstration will be for naught. The protesters have given reasons against the incoming president, Jane Fernandes,to cite her as being unqualified for the job, but the underlying reason is that the students, and many of the faculty, think she is not deaf enough. I understand passion and identity, but that is not a disqualifier folks.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Google Scholar: An accessible resource

It is the philosophy of AccessAbility that a truly good and useful resource is one that is readily accessible to all users. It is this aspect that makes
Google Scholar
A good and useful resource for students with disabilities.

Of course, the name Google tells you the power behind the technology that is providing the service. Now, the Google folks have taken their search capabilities and web savvy, applying them to scholarly literature.

One more aspect of accessibility that this database offers is that any computer can access it. Users are not restricted to only using the computers in the campus library nor do they have to be using a computer that is part of the campus network, as is required by many subscription databases that some schools use. Being that Google Scholar is web-based, they can search scholarly research from any computer with internet access. This gives users of assistive technology the ability to do independent searches of the wide compendium of archived work this powerful database offers. There is no longer the need to find somebody to assist in using the restricted campus computers that do not have assistive technology.

As a former university student who often experienced access difficulty when researching scholarly literature at the college libraries, I applaud this move by the 800-pound gorilla of the information age. I wish this technology had been around when I was working on those many research papers that were required for my classes.

The Google Scholar web site offers the following description of the services it provides:

What is Google Scholar?
“Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations. Google Scholar helps you identify the most relevant research across the world of scholarly research.”

Features of Google Scholar
“• Search diverse sources from one convenient place
• Find papers, abstracts and citations
• Locate the complete paper through your library or on the web
• Learn about key papers in any area of research”

How are articles ranked?
“Google Scholar aims to sort articles the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each article, the author, the publication in which the article appears, and how often the piece has been cited in other scholarly literature. The most relevant results will always appear on the first page.”

Now, as with any other resource, don’t keep Google Scholar to yourself. Share it with others who need it as well.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Wiki model applied to Assistive Technology

For those who are web savvy, and already understand the concept of
the free, on-line encyclopedia that is authored by the very readers it serves, then there is an advent in the assistive technology world that may be of interest to you.

On Wikipedia, the articles are written by its users and readers are encouraged to update listings with knowledge they possess which may flesh out the entries. What makes it so useful is that it is completely searchable.

Wikipedia’s grass roots authoring model is now being applied by the folks at the Georgia Tech Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access. They have launched
An encyclopedia of assistive technology. They currently have 54 articles and are seeking input of more from professionals in the AT field.

Check it out. The site is a good resource for anybody working with people who use assistive technology, those they serve, and AT professionals. And, if you are knowledgeable in AT and have something to contribute, get to work and start writing.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Updated: Head's up! IE7 is coming

If you haven’t heard about the upcoming, imminent release of Internet Explorer 7, then let me be the first to tell you.

IE7is coming and will be sent to you in a manner you aren’t used to getting new software. This latest incarnation, touted to be the best and moste secure web browser Microsoft has made, will be coming to you via your computer’s automatic updates feature. Yes, your pc will automatically download IE7.

So, why am I writing about this on AccessAbility?

The reason is simple. IE7 will hit the automatic update circuit somewhere around November 1 and unless one is running the latest versions of many of the assistive software programs, blind and visually impaired computer users will have difficulty interacting with it. This will effectively shutt out those who rely on older versions of assistive technology to get information from the web. This could be you, if you use an older version of a screen reader or magnifier, but will also impact any of your students who use these either on campus or at home.

You will notice I directed the impact on students to computers on campus and home. Think about which computers you have on campus that are equipped with a screen reader or magnifier. If those computers are set to automatic updates, they will be affected. Installing IE7 may exclude the very students these computers are set up to accommodate. Also, it may be a good idea to give your students a head’s up so they can take action on their personal machine at home before Nov. 1 rolls around.

To help guide you through this troublesome period of upgrades, I offer the following from Rehabilitation Engineer Geoff Howard. This was originally posted on the NHBlind-Talk list.
• If your computer is set to automatically download and install critical updates, you could turn on your computer some morning and find that you’ve been updated. The current versions of most assistive technology products are not fully compatible with Internet Explorer 7.
• My first recommendation is to set the automatic updates feature to “Notify me but don’t automatically download or install”. This can be found in the Control Panel, under Automatic Updates. You’ll be able to view a list of available updates as they are released, just make sure not to choose the Internet Explorer 7 update yet.
• Internet Explorer 7 turns on “Clear Type” by default, which may cause some video corruption for large print users. This can be turned off in the Internet Options, Advanced Tab.
• ZoomText users: Ai Squared working on ZoomText version 9.04. This will be a free update to users of the version 9 product. Version 9.04 will be compatible with Internet Explorer 7. The release is expected in November. You can check for the update in ZoomText by going to “Check for Program Updates” in the ZoomText programs help menu.
• JAWS Users: JAWS 7.0 and earlier do not support Internet Explorer 7. JAWS 7.10 is recommended for testing, but JAWS will not be fully optimized for Internet Explorer 7 until the release of JAWS 8.0.
• MAGic Users: Version 9.50 and later can be tested with Internet Explorer 7.
• Window-Eyes: GW Micro has some registry tweaks for some items that they have found in IE 7. Information can be found in the knowledge base section of their web site. They detail support for IE 7 in the information section for beta 6, which can be found at


Wayne Merritt, a technology trainer at the Texas training center for the blind read this post and added the following.

“From what I understand, there will be a prompt that asks you if you want to install the new IE right now (or whenever you see it), later, or not at all.
You will be able to select a choice and go on from there. Thus, is not necessary, nor recommended in my view anyway, to alter how automatic updates behave.
Microsoft uses this facility to issue updates to what it defines as critical security flaws in its software. Changing how you receive automatic updates could prevent you from getting one of these security udpates, thus putting your system at risk. So, the bottom line, if you don't have a current version of the appropriate screen reader that supports IE 7, you will be able to choose to install it later, or not at all. Also, JAWS 8.0 and Window Eyes 6.0 will be able to be used with IE 7. JAWS 8 should be out sometime this month, and I'm not sure about Window Eyes. Check the GW Micro website
for more details.”

Thanks for the added insight Wayne

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Disability and employment resources

Being this is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, it seems logical to build on this theme a bit. To this end, I offer some resources.

First, think about the history of disabilities in the U.S. and the impact they have had. If you were like myself, and found that you were not well versed in the history of disabilities, check out
The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities web site.

The site is very in-depth, with a link to Parallels in Time, a comprehensive six-hour history of disabilities. There is also a link to The Learning Center, with a catalog of more than 10,000 pages of documents pertaining to disabilities from 1976-1997. While these two links alone have a plethora of information that can consume several hours of time, consider the wealth of resources these give you for disability resources, especially when they are combined with the other offered resource links on the page.

Secondly, let me discuss the
Disability Site.

I came across this site doing some research on the web and found it interesting. I took some time to explore it and was fairly impressed with the linked information that was available. There is information about different disabilities, disability rights and laws governing them, and also contains additional resources.

However, this is a commercial, Google ad-supported site, whose ownership I was unable to determine. While I feel the site is rich in what it offers as far as resources, I have credibility concerns when I can not find information about who is presenting the information on the site. I offer it here solely as a possible link for its resources.

Thirdly, are you familiar with
Bender Consulting Services?

Bender Consulting Services is an employment agency specifically working to market people with disabilities, most particularly in the technology field. On the company web site, there are links for people with disabilities, employers, and a list of current openings. They also have affiliate sites serving the Canada and international markets. The founder, Joyce Bender, has several notable recognitions for her work listed on the “About Bender” link.

Finally, below is the text of a press release issued earlier this month by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concerning a federal initiative to employ people with what are classified as “severe disabilities.” Please share this with your students who will soon be or are currently seeking employment.


Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 David Grinberg

(202) 663-4900

TTY: (202) 663-4494


Boosts Effort to Increase Number of Federal Employees with Targeted Disabilities

WASHINGTON – Giving greater presence to a pressing – and largely unknown – problem, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today launched a website section on its LEAD Initiative, designed to address the declining number of employees with severe disabilities in the Federal workforce.

The section, on EEOC’s website at
offers basic information on the initiative and on the declining number of disabled federal employees. As the effort progresses, announcements and updates will appear regularly.

The Commission launched the LEAD (Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities) Initiative in June under the leadership of Commissioner Christine Griffin, a legal expert and long-time advocate for disability issues.

“I commend Commissioner Griffin for her efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities are fully included in the federal workforce,” said EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp. “EEOC’s LEAD Initiative will complement the Commission’s outreach and enforcement efforts on behalf of individuals with disabilities.”

Commissioner Griffin noted, “In order to improve the overall employment rate for people with targeted disabilities, we have to begin with the federal government.
Congress directed the federal government to set the example for all other employers. Our example needs improvement. I fully expect the LEAD initiative to significantly contribute to this improvement. The LEAD website section will allow us to provide important and useful information to a broad audience, so I look forward to it having a positive impact.”

LEAD aims, ultimately, to significantly increase the population of individuals with disabilities employed by the federal government. This national outreach and education campaign is designed to:

* increase the awareness of hiring officials about the declining numbers of people with disabilities in federal employment

* reverse the trend of decreasing participation in federal employment

* educate federal hiring officials about how to use special hiring authorities to bring people with disabilities on board, particularly those with
severe disabilities

* educate applicants with severe disabilities about how to apply using the special hiring authorities available

* provide information and resources on reasonable accommodation.

The LEAD Initiative draws on educational events and seminars and focus group sessions with federal managers, hiring officials and other interested parties to explore the issue of declining employment for individuals with severe disabilities, and to come up with concrete solutions to address the problem.

People with targeted disabilities have dropped to less than one percent of the permanent federal workforce, continuing a long-term decline, according to data released in June by the EEOC. Targeted disabilities include blindness, deafness, partial paralysis, complete paralysis, mental illness, mental retardation, convulsive disorders, and distortion of limbs or spine.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that federal agencies take proactive steps to provide equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Moreover, under Executive Order 13164, agencies are required to establish effective written procedures for processing reasonable accommodation requests, which are submitted to the EEOC for review.

Additionally, under the EEOC’s Management Directive 715, agencies annually report their efforts to implement a Model EEO Program; to identify and eliminate barriers to equal opportunity in the workplace; and to implement special program plans for the recruitment, hiring and advancement of individuals with targeted disabilities.

The EEOC is also striving to advance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities through the President’s New Freedom Initiative and the agency’s Freedom to Compete Initiative -- a national outreach, education and coalition-building campaign launched in 2002 to provide unfettered access to employment opportunities for all individuals. The agency just launched the application process for its third annual Freedom to Compete Awards, with nominations due Dec. 13 for awards to be presented in June 2007.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the agency is available on its web site at

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

FDA approves new drug for Type II diabetes

Here’s a mixed bag of news for those with Type II diabetes. The
FDA has approved a new diabetes drug.

According to the Houston Chronicle story:

“The Food and Drug Administration said it approved Januvia, which enhances the body's own ability to lower blood sugar levels, after clinical trials showing the new pill works just as well as older diabetes drugs, but with fewer side effects like weight gain. The drug is made by Merck and Co. Inc.”

“The new drug's cost may limit its use, however. Merck did not immediately disclose what it would charge for Januvia, but it is expected to cost between $3 and $6 a day. Older diabetes drugs can cost 50 cents a day.”

“Januvia, also known as sitagliptin phosphate, works with a one-two punch: It increases levels of a hormone that triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin to process blood sugar while simultaneously signaling the liver to quit making glucose. The pill does that by blocking production of an enzyme, called DPP-4, that normally inactivates that hormone.“

So, take the news for what it is worth. It handles Type II diabetes with less side effects than existing medications, but at a higher cost per dose.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Come Walk in Our Shoes

This past weekend, I had the pleasure to participate at Come Walk in Our Shoes, an annual experiential educational event in Central Texas. Sponsored by the VIP support group in Temple, the event had a strong showing of support from the local public. While the event is designed to be an educational outreach for the sighted public, it also served as a good networking of blind resources and as an information gathering opportunity as well.

The event had several challenge tables set up where sighted people were allowed to don a blindfold and attempt to do various tasks they are used to doing, but taking away their ability to rely on visual input. This is what the original concept of the event was—educating those who do not usually know how blind people function, but are interested enough to learn. However, as the event has evolved over the several years of its existence, it has grown to also include an offering of information and resources to the blind people in attendance.

One of the presenters at the event was Mark Marvel, with the
Blind Ambitions Groups,
A blind support group based in Dallas. The group’s web site offers its mission and purpose as follows:

“The mission of Blind Ambitions Groups is to educate blind and visually impaired people and their families about available resources – and to encourage each person to move to the next step – whatever it may be for that person."

"PURPOSE: Through support, we teach blind and visually impaired (hereinafter referred to as blind) people to advocate for themselves in getting what they need to facilitate a better quality of life.”

I met with Mark and am impressed with the work his group is doing. While they are based in Dallas, he said they are planning to offer their services state-wide in the future. Already, they host two radio programs on the Reading Radio network, Eye on Employment and Sound of Sight. There are archived shows available for download on their web site. There is a strong emphasis on advocacy and Mark is a really dynamic spokesperson who seems to have a good grasp of his resources. He also said their web site was going to undergo some updates in the coming days.

Take a little time to check out the group’s site and look through the archives of past shows. They present a good resource to offer your blind and visually impaired students who are looking for information and will eventually be seeking employment.

Also, while I was at this event, I had the opportunity to investigate, first-hand, the
Kurzweil - National Federation of the Blind reader.
At my last position, my colleague and I had read several news articles about this innovative piece of OCR scanning technology. Since the time I had first heard about it, I had been very intrigued by what is in essence, a portable scanner that runs OCR software. It is built with a digital camera linked to a PDA running OCR software designed by the granddaddy of OCR himself.

I think the KNFB Reader does a good job in scanning the photographs it takes and extracting out the text, but has a couple of drawbacks. In this age where computers are always processing information faster with each passing month, this device seemed a bit slow. The Reader also seemed a bit bulky for my taste, in its traditional camera bag-sized carrying case. For $3,500, I expected something a little more compact and also thought it would process the images faster. Perhaps, these aspects are coming in a future build of the unit. I have to admit that the whole concept of integrating the technologies that this device does is putting the tools in place to make independence among the blind a fact of life, even if the pricetag is a bit hefty.

Additionally, representatives from the Seeing Eye, the Texas Division for Rehabilitive Services, and a technology trainer who teaches blind consumers how to use JAWS and Zoom Text were also present and sharing information about their specific services.

Overall, the Come Walk in Our Shoes event was very successful in its mission to educate and provide resources. I look forward to seeing how this event grows for next year.

Friday, October 13, 2006

October 15 is National White Cane Safety Day

I know, October 15 falls on Sunday this year, and campuses are pretty much shut down, but I still wanted to get this out here.
Below is the text of the official White House press release designating this day.


Olegario D. Cantos VII, Esq.
Associate Director for Domestic Policy
The White House
- - - - - - - - - -
Just a few hours ago, the President signed a proclamation, declaring
October 15, 2006, as White Cane Safety Day. I therefore wanted to send
the text to you right away. Please distribute this widely.
Commemoration of this occasion enables communities all around the
country to focus attention on the abilities, independence, and spirit of
blind and visually impaired Americans. Since (as you have recently
seen) October is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month,
the appropriate related themes tie in quite well.
If you would like to receive a framable copy of the Proclamation which
is worthy of prominent display (featuring the Seal of the President in
gold and the signature of the President), please fax requests to (202)
456-2806. (Note that such requests are not processed through my
- - - - - - -
Our Nation believes in the promise of all our citizens, and we must work
to ensure that the opportunities of America are more accessible to every
person. Many Americans who are blind or visually impaired use white
canes to enable them to enjoy greater mobility, engage in productive
work, and participate fully in all aspects of life. On White Cane
Safety Day, we celebrate the many achievements of Americans who are
blind or visually impaired, and we recognize the white cane as an
important symbol of their determination and independence.
My Administration remains committed to removing barriers that confront
Americans with disabilities. Since we launched the New Freedom
Initiative 5 years ago, we have worked to improve access to community
life, expand educational opportunities, strengthen training and
employment services, and promote the development of technology for
people with disabilities. We are building on the progress of the
Americans with Disabilities Act and working to make America a place
where all citizens have the opportunity to realize their full potential.
The Congress, by joint resolution (Public Law 88-628) approved on
October 6, 1964, as amended, has designated October 15 of each year as
"White Cane Safety Day."
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of
America, do hereby proclaim October 15, 2006, as White Cane Safety Day.
I call upon public officials, business leaders, educators, librarians,
and all the people of the United States to join as we work to ensure
that the benefits and privileges of life in our great Nation are
available to Americans who are blind or visually impaired, and to
observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twelfth day of
October, in the year of our Lord two thousand six, and of the
Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and
- - - - - - - - - -
Olegario D. Cantos VII, Esq.
Associate Director for Domestic Policy
The White House
Washington, DC 20502
(202) 456-7330 [Phone/Relay]
(202) 456-5557 [Fax]

Gallaudet University update

To update you, the
situation at Gallaudet University
continuing to escalate.

The campus of the Washington D.C. university for the deaf has now been shut down for two days due to students staging protests over the incoming president. In the latest turn of events, the football team joined the protest. Students are blocking entrances to the campus. Meanwhile, police sit by and watch.

This is not the first time that students at Gallaudet have demonstrated in sucha fashion. It was 18 years ago that student demonstrators forced the university to appoint the first deaf president.

The actions of the students are truly a statement of the deaf culture. The underlying argument, no matter how else it is presented, is that the incoming president is not deaf enough.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

If you haven’t noticed the multitude of pink ribbons around us as a reminder, October is
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Statistics on the incidence of breast cancer, according to the
National Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation, Inc web site
Show that:

“This year in America, more than 211,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 43,300 die.
One woman in eight either has or will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.
In addition, 1,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 400 will die this year.
If detected early, the five-year survival rate exceeds 95%.
Mammograms are among the best early detection methods, yet 13 million U.S. women 40 years of age or older have never had a mammogram.”

That last statistic is particularly interesting, as information on the
American Cancer Society web site

“The Best Early Warning System for Breast Cancer?
A mammogram. Every year. Every woman age 40 and older. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, mammograms are In the Spotlight.”

There are more than enough resources for reference material at these three linked sites, and they are much more athoritative than AccessAbility can be, so I’ll leave it to them to provide you you with more information.

What I will do is to encourage your DSS office to take an active role in supporting breast cancer awareness. Co-sponsor campus events highlighting awareness and get out there with reference material and resources. Join with your student health center and do something to promote awareness.

Look at those statistics, then look around you. The odds are that you will know one or more women who are dealing with or have survived breast cancer. If not, you will.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

New computer mouse device for the foot is on the horizon

For people who do not have use of their hands, living in a digital environment where operating a computer is almost a must, creates quite a challenge. Of course, there are mice designed to be operated by the foot, but there is now a
wireless hardware device designed to be worn on the foot
and not as an external device.

According to the Ars Technica news article:

“The future of computing could include a foot-activated input device, according to some HP researchers in the UK. The researchers have filed a Patent for a foot-controlled user interface that is intended to be used with a wearable computing device, but may also be used with a desktop computer.

Unlike existing foot "mice," the wireless device is to be worn on the foot, not operated as an external device by the foot. This would allow a freer range of motion and presumably more natural use. It is intended to be strapped to the foot or shoe of the user and, using an accelerometer and magnetic sensor, a reference unit can calculate relative positioning of the foot to translate it on the user interface. Various foot movements could be programmed to mean specific actions, such as twisting the foot for a left or right click. Although this sounds like a sport only to be practiced while on the comfort of your own couch, the patent claims that the device could also be used while standing.”

I know of a drafting student who did not have use of his hands, yet functioned quite well with adaptive computing using his foot to operate the external mouse. I wonder if he would be able to find use of this device once it hits the market and what his thoughts would be.

Unrest at Gallaudet and the deaf culture

Have you been following the news about the unrest at Gallaudet University? If not, read how the intensity of student unrest has
surprised the incoming Gallaudet leader.

This is a strong example of how the deaf culture is so unique among the world of people with disabilities. If you have not spent time with either your students or the interpreters at your school, sit down and do so to gain some valuable insight to a world beyond that which you know. I can personally attest to the awakening I experienced when I did just that. I must add that learning about the interpreters’ education and training experiences were a big cultural lesson for me.

Friday, October 06, 2006

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Don’t forget that October is
National Disability Employment Awareness month.

This is a great time to coordinate activities with your college’s career counseling office. Just think, you may be able to educate the career counselors and potential employers in your area on what the needs of people with disabilities are. Go forth, dispel the false ideas, and share what you know!

Do you have anything planned for the month in conjunction with this designation? If so, please post a comment and share it with the rest of our readers.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Review of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9

If you’ve been considering a purchase of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9, but weren’t sure what the highs and lows of it were, or if you’ve been weighing whether it would be worth an upgrade if running an older version, then the following should be of interest to you.

The folks at Ars Technica have a very good, pros and cons
Review of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.

Dragon is a powerful program that serves those with limited hand usage very well. That goes not only for motor and neurological disorders, but includes Repetitive Stress Injuries. Everyone say it together…carpal tunnel syndrome!

In the review, the author makes a comparison of the current version to that which existed ten years ago. Of course, the differences are dramatic. Dragon 9 boasts an accuracy rate of 99%, but I’m sure that comes with time and practice. Still, if you’re in the market for this program, check out the review.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Model Home Designed for Visually Impaired

An interesting concept is being undertaken by the American Foundation for the Blind in how to demonstrate assistive household devices to people who have lost or are losing their sight.

In a Dallas
model home for the blind,the AFB has a physical facility that allows the visually impaired person to take a tour of the actual adaptive devices and products that can increase independent living. The model home is already open to the public and will have its grand opening on Oct. 27. Plans are also in the works to make a virtual tour of the home available over the web.

The web tour will be helpful for those folks who don't live near Dallas. This will allow people to see what the house has who would not otherwise be able to check out the offerings, but this virtual tour is limited in its scope. You can only see the items on the video monitor and the target audience is visually impaired. It will take some smart web designing to effectively communicate the displayed information in alternate formats. It can be done.

Perhaps this model home is a concept that can be replicated. Maybe each state that has a blind rehab center for adults could set up a model home to show their clients when they are at the center receiving services. I know the Criss Cole Center in Austin has some aspects of this in the kitchen areas, in the communications department, and the tech center.

This model home is truly an innovative concept that can have broader application if applied to different disabilities. Think about a home designed for a quadraplegic. The adaptive devices that would be demonstrated would apply not only to somebody with that specific disability, but could be explored for use by people with other disabilities.

While this information is not specifically about higher education, it does concern a group that this blog is targeted towards and I'm posting this information here as a resource for any students that might find interest in what is offered.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Access World: a rich resource for tech info

I will be without computer access for the next week, so I want to leave readers with a resource I’ve known about and used for several years. It the American Foundation for the Blind’s
Access World

Access World is a bi-monthly publication of the AFB that documents and reviews the latest technological innovations and how taccessible the various products are to those with visual impairments. The on-line magazine is a rich resource for everything from comparisons of screen readers, OCR programs, and CCTVs to examining the accessibility of the latest models of cell phones. There was a recent feature on accessibility of different office copy machines. If you think those are confounding, you ought to try using one of those multi-tasking machines with little or no sight. That review really grabbed the essence of how inaccessible the world of most stand-alone copy machines are.

As if Access World were not resource enough, I’ll toss one other one out here. It is the
Official AFB web site.

While I will be off-line for a few days, fret not. AccessAbility will be back soon. Check back at the beginning of October. Until then, here’s to a more accessible world.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Federal Complaint About Monkey's Therapy/Assistance Role

Did you read about Debby Rose, the Springfield, MO woman who has filed a complaint with the federal government against the local health department? The reason for her complaint is that the health officials have ruled that her monkey is a therapy animal, not an assistance animal as she alleges, and has disallowed her access to establishments that serve or handle food.

According to the article in the Springfield News Leader:
“Rose said her monkey, Richard, is a service animal that helps her cope with a debilitating anxiety disorder, which includes a racing heart, high blood pressure and panic attacks in certain situations -- particularly public activities. Richard helps relieve that and, according to the Americans With Disabilities Act, she said, he should be allowed into public food places.”

“Director of Health Kevin Gipson maintained the health department's position that, according to its interpretation of ADA law, the monkey is a therapy animal or a pet -- not a service animal — and therefore not allowed in food establishments. According to health department research, "a service animal by definition has to perform a physical function for that person," Gipson said.”

“Gipson said he would reverse the decision if the federal government says Rose's monkey is a service animal. He encouraged Rose to file a complaint.”

This difference in opinion is exactly what I was writing about in an earlier post and to make certain that your school has a policy in place regarding assistance animals as well as therapy animals. Service animals do not always come in the canine variety. Don’t forget that just a couple of years ago a few miniature horses were trained to function as guides for blind people.

If interested, the full article about the woman’s allegation is at
the Springfield News Leader web site.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Multi-Language Driver for FS Pac Mate

If you have any visually impaired students who use the Pac Mate model note taker from Freedom Scientific, the following news release may be of interest to them, particularly if they are bilingual.

Freedom Scientific is pleased to announce the immediate availability of the new Multi-language keyboard driver for PAC mate, allowing you to add the ability to input text in eight different languages on your PAC mate QX.

This driver requires that you be running version 4.0 or later of the PAC mate software.
With this driver installed, you can choose from eight different keyboard layouts, allowing you to enter text in Spanish, Italian, German, European French, French Canadian, Brazilian Portuguese, French Swiss, and German Swiss. American and U.K. English already are included on PAC Mate QX models running PAC Mate Version 4.0 or later.

What Does It Cost?

The multi-language keyboard driver is a free download.

How Do I Get It?

A link to this download is available from the PAC mate Headquarters page on Freedom Scientific's web site, or you can go directly to the page by visiting

Follow the instructions on this page regarding downloading and installing the driver.

We're sure customers who work with multiple languages will enjoy the additional power and functionality this offers.

Jonathan Mosen.
Vice President, Blindness Hardware Product Management
Freedom Scientific BLV Group LLC

Saturday, September 16, 2006

AHEAD in Texas 2006 Fall Conference

I have just sent in my registration for the AHEAD in Texas 2006 Fall Conference, To be held Nov. 9-10 at Texas State University in San Marcos. If you still need to register or want more information about the event, then check out the conference web site at:

If you don’t already know, conference attendees get free membership in AHEAD in Texas for the next year. Aside from that perk, this event is the best opportunity to learn the latest trends in DSS and to also meet the professionals providing these services throughout the state.

Being the target audience of AccessAbility includes students with disabilities and their family members, I have a question for you if you are somebody from either of these two groups. Did you know that you can also join AHEAD in Texas?

It is true, and for those who can not make the annual conference, fear not. for you, membership is offered at a reduced fee from the professional members. Parents can join as an advocate member for $25 per year and students can join as student members for a mere $15 per year.

AccessAbility is not stumping for AHEAD in Texas, but simply serving as a conduit of information for those who may not know this information.

AHEAD is the parent organization for professionals in the DSS field. AHEAD in Texas is an affiliate of AHEAD. However, membership in one does not bring membership in the other.

Still, if you want to know what is going on at the state level, AHEAD in Texas is the pipeline of information that can keep you in touch. Membership also brings you into a networked group of professionals serving a common cause.

Check out the AHEAD in Texas web site for membership and contact information.

If you’re planning to attend the Fall Conference, I’ll see you there.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injury in Veterans

Service members injured during wartime who return stateside with a medical discharge and work to further themselves by attending college is not anything new. The current battle situation, however, involves innovations in battle armor which are much improved over past military incursions and the result is the potential for undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries.

According to an Associated Press article,
Brain Injuries are the Signature Wound of Iraq War.

The article indicates the person’s other, more obvious injuries may mask the symptoms of the TBI and preclude proper treatment.

“Doctors say traumatic brain injuries are the signature wound of the Iraq war, a byproduct of improved armor that allows troops to survive once-deadly attacks but does not fully protect against roadside explosives and suicide bombers.

So far, about 1,000 patients have been treated for the symptoms, which include slowed thinking, severe memory loss and problems with coordination and impulse control. Some doctors fear there may be thousands more active duty and discharged troops who are suffering undiagnosed.”

A related news article describes the situation getting worse as,Defense Department funding for its ten brain injury facilities is
being cut in half.

The reason for posting this information here on AccessAbility is to hopefully serve as a conductor of enlightenment, especially at those schools where a strong number of your population might be returning service members.

DSS Coordinators might want to evaluate your caseload and check for any clients who might be veterans fitting this profile. A follow-up could include an interview with any noted clients to discuss their diagnosis and ensure that it is proper. The ethical thing to do is to ensure that your clients are receiving the correct service from your office. Our veterans deserve this much consideration and then some.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

ADHD Awareness Day is Sept. 20

One of the greatest rewards of the DSS field that I experienced on several occasions was helping somebody who felt like there was something going on, but they weren’t sure what it was. After gathering the symptoms, the usual result was a suspected LD or ADHD. The payoff came when the person returned with documentation supporting their newfound disability and they became a client of the office.

With this in mind, I offer the following reminder.

ADHD Awareness Day is September 20, 2006.

As in previous years, ADHD Experts on Call will also return again on that day.

If you are not familiar with that program, ADHD Experts on Call is an educational hot line that allows people affected by ADHD to speak with representatives from patient-advocacy groups, teachers, doctors, school nurses and parents. It is a great opportunity for someone who is dealing with the symptoms but not having a diagnosis to get some input from folks in the field who know what the experience is all about. This might be the very push that helps somebody go out and get the diagnosis. You’ll know if they come in later with their documentation in hand.

The toll-free number is 888-ASK-ADHD (888-275-2343), or you can chat online live with an ADHD expert at,
All callers and Web chatters can receive free information about ADHD.

Please share this information with anybody you feel may beneifit from it.

An awareness day is a great opportunity for your office to plan outreach activities. Do you have anything planned for Sept. 20? How about any other day?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Managing suicide risks: What about your school?

Last week, I posted about 1 in 5 students self mutilating at two Ivy League schools. In that post I mentioned that I was doing research, but never said what I was researching.

The research topic was suicide at college. My line of thinking was trying to understand if those students who commit suicide are living with a diagnosis and possibly receiving services from their DSS office for Depression or Bipolar disorder. I’m still looking at information I have been gathering.

Directly related to this subject, just yesterday, I didn’t have to look far to find the latest news story about college suicides. The Associated Press had one plastered on the site of my local paper, announcing
Colleges Grapple with student suicides
for all the world to see.
The deeper issue at the heart of that story is that the female student profiled had attempted suicide and was kicked out of her dorm for violating the school’s policy against suicide. Pop quiz…isn’t it depressed people that attempt suicide? Isn’t depression covered under the ADA?

Apparently Hunter College finally saw the error in that line of thinking and settled with the student, allowing her to continue classes and paid her a financial settlement as well. Additionally, the college is abandoning its suicide policy, but may still temporarily remove troubled students from residence halls. However, a spokesperson said that evictions will not be automatic.

The supporting information in that article suggests that schools may be held liable if a student commits suicide in his or her dorm room. Two judges have ruled that a school may have a duty to act in a preventive capacity if the student’s risk of suicide was foreseeable. As a result, some schools have tried to act in a more aggressive manner and sent students home when this risk became apparent.

Interesting thought provokers here, don’t you think?

How about your school, does it have a policy banning suicide? If so, how does this impact your students with psychological disorders? Is this legal? Is this ethical? Is it the right thing to do?

STEM subjects and blind students

As a DSS Coordinator, have you ever sat and wondered why rarely any blind students, not even the brightest of them, pursue STEM subjects?

If you’ve been in the DSS profession long enough, you already know the reason to that situation. While a myriad assortment of Assistive Technology (AT) does exist, it falls woefully short in providing full access. There is little that cracks the patina of what students in the STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics- tracks would require. The burden to gather the proper resources to make the material in these courses accessible is monumental and will leave even the most veteran DSS Coordinator scrambling for help to find what tools exist to meet the student’s needs. For example, I know of one university that was recently saddled with getting a blind student’s graduate-level math book transcribed into braille. Due to the technical need for the nemeth code, the cost for translating just that one book was estimated near $10,000.

If you’re interested in a further informed and insightful discussion on STEM subjects and blind students, check out Chris Hofstader’s Blind Confidential blog at:

Chris is a blind computer engineer and, thus, knows first-hand of the difficulty faced by students who pursue these academic tracks. He is also very well versed in the field of AT—he has previously worked as a software engineer at
Freedom Scientific
for six years.

Chris discusses two resources in the post, The Virtual Pencil and Gardner’s Accessible Graphing Calculator, which may not be common tools in many DSS Coordinator’s toolboxes. If interested in either of these, I offer the below information and links.

The Virtual Pencil is a software application which was originally designed for blind and low-vision students. However, the program has also been discovered to be of assistance to students with learning disabilities. If you want more information about this innovative product from the creative mind of Ted Henter, the original engineer who developed the JAWS screen reader, then go to the
Henter Math

The official web site for theAccessible Graphing Calculator is:
The information on that web site describes the tool as follows:
“The Accessible Graphing Calculator (AGC) is a computer software program and was developed by the esteemed Science Access Project at Oregon State University, directed by Dr. John Gardner. This group is dedicated to the development of methods for making science, math, and engineering information accessible to people with print disabilities. "Print disabilities" include low vision, blindness, and dyslexia.”

Finally, going back to the Blind Confidential blog, if you continued scrolling after the discussion about STEM subjects and blind students, you also read Chris’ next post, offering a very brave and candid dialogue from the perspective of a blind person also dealing with severe depression and suicidal ideations. I applaud Chris for offering this frank understanding of what it was like for him to face the depths of hopelessness. While his language gets rough in some spots, he gives you a glimpse inside the mind of a person dealing with a major psychological event in his life. I believe it demonstrates very well how the perils of mental health can fall very hard on people with disabilities.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

As a DSS coordinator a question I liked to ask my students was what their goals were beyond school. Where are you going with the education you are working on now?

Of course that was just the bait and was followed up with questions about what else they have done to prepare for the workplace. Ultimately, going to work is what they were usually getting their education for and, quite often, they had not even addressed the second question.

Naturally, a good resource for students with disabilities is the campus Career Counseling office. However, for more specialized attention, you can direct your students to the,
Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities
(COSD) web site.

The website has a strong collection of resources and a national network of individuals, universities, and employers to assist in providing resources to students with disabilities seeking employment. It is specialized and serves the same population you serve. Check out the link above and take the time to explore the site. Registration is free and gets you access to the growing membership database. It is one of those tools that it can’t hurt to have at your disposal.

It was actually a Career Counselor at my university who introduced me to COSD during my graduate assistantship. I quickly realized that there is some good work going on at COSD.

To maximize service to your students, there is a good opportunity to explore a strong alliance between the DSS office and the Career Counseling office. During my job as a DSS Coordinator, my colleague and I frequently called upon our Career Counseling office. It really helped that the Director of Career Counseling was housed across the hall. Our offices had a close working relationship and we often collaborated on services to the DSS clients.

What do you think? Is this a feasible collaboration at your school? If a DSS office is unable to provide assistance in helping its student’s reach their end goal of going to work, have you really done all that you can to serve your students?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

One out of five college students self mutilate

Can you imagine the number of students on your caseload if that figure were almost one fifth of your school’s entire population?

Its possible.

It would be a reality if the number of students in a recent study of self mutilation rates among college students are accurate, and that entire group came to you with a proper diagnosis.

Let me explain.
I was doing some web research this morning when I came across an article from Fox News. The article actually ran in early June and is about
self mutilation rates among college students
at two Ivy League universities, Cornell and Princeton. The frequency rate at these two colleges is nearly twenty percent. That’s one out of every five students.

The scope of this study includes not only cutting, but also burning and other methods of self injurious behavior.

According to the article, the frequency rates are similar to those reported at colleges, high schools, and middle schools across the nationn. It also reported more than 400 web sites dedicated to the subject of self mutilation.

After the earlier post here about cutting rates among young people on the wholeI felt compelled to provide additional information on this subject, as it is particular to college students.

In this Fox article, not only was this survey conducted with actual college students, but at two of the supposedly more elite universities of our country. If it is happening at this frequency there, there is a strong likelihood that it is happening at your school at similar rates.

These students have a noticeable psychological condition due to the dysfunction their behavior is causing in their daily living. The same question that was raised in the previous post on cutting can be raised again. If a student self identifies about the underlying psychological condition at the root of their cutting, what accommodations do DSS professionals make?

Just food for thought.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Eemergency evacuation plans and students with disabilities

With the new school year freshly underway, all colleges and universities need to have plans in place for safe evacuation of students with disabilities. This includes dorms and residence halls. Many schools made sure to draw up these types of plans when the Sept. 11 tragedy highlighted the difficult task that people with disabilities can have when they need to leave a building during an emergency. Once the plans are developed, it is important that they are periodically revisited to account for any necessary changes.

How about your school? If there is an emergency and either the classroom buildings or dorms need to be evacuated, do you have a plan in place for getting your students with disabilities out of the buildings? When was the last time you reviewed your school’s plan?

If you need assistance in developing or refocusing your evacuation plan, the following ten questions from the
Easter Seals
web site may aid as a guide in this task. (The questions are directed towards the individuals with disabilities, prompting them to plan for their own safety, but are easily modified for perspective taking.)

1. Do you need help with personal care, or use adaptive equipment to meet your personal care needs?
• What assistance would you need in an emergency?
• What would you do if water or electricity were cut off?

2. Do you need accessible transportation?

3. Do you need assistance to leave your home or office?

4. How will you need to be alerted to an emergency?

5. If elevators are not working, do you have a back-up plan?

6. Who will be available and know how to help you exit?

7. Will you need mobility aids to exit?
• Will you need back-up mobility aids when you reach a safe place?

8. Do you need medical supplies available in a safe place?

9. Will you need assistance in training and caring for a service animal?

10. Who needs to know where you will be after an emergency evacuation?

These questions really place the focus where planning for emergency evacuation of people with disabilities should be directed. When an emergency arises, it is too late to develop an evacuation plan for students with disabilities. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough how critical it is to be proactive in doing this.

I encourage you to pull out your school’s emergency evacuation plan and read over it. Then look over your caseload and see what concerns each of your students might have in the event of an emergency evacuation. If the provisions in place do not address the concerns of the students you serve as the DSS Coordinator, then it is your inherent duty to bring this need to the person who has authority over your school’s plan.