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.