Friday, December 14, 2007

National Sign Language Interpreter Database: an idea whose time has come

Given the shortage of sign language interpreters, have you ever thought about a database that would list sign language interpreters and let you find those nearest you?

Think no more about it, as the National Sign Language Interpreter Database, or NSLID, is up and running. They have a searchable web site at

According to the site, their purpose is to:
“Provide a free, national database of Sign Language Interpreters to improve the coordination and availability of support services on a local, state and national level.”

What's really neat is that this database works both ways, providing a listing of the interpreters to those who are seeking them, and also allows interpreters to list their services.

So, if you’re a sign language interpreter wanting to do some freelance work, you can post a listing with your contact information and also list the type of services you provide. (This also works great for agencies to list themselves so that anybody seeking services in their area can locate them.) There are areas to list one’s level of certification or specializations one may possess, such as theatrical or legal interpreting. Additionally, one can also post your pay scale by range and the distance you are willing to travel.

The site is not only about interpreting. The database also allows interpreters to list any specialized services they offer including speech-to-text providers such as C-print, Typewell, CART, as well as oral interpreting and cued speech interpreting.

Thanks to Bet Case of the
Disability 411 Podcast
for the information about this worthwhile database. Also, congratulations to Beth on her 50th podcast. We look forward to more D411 shows in the future.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

LD podcast offers good resource

I just discovered the
LD Podcast
Blog through one of my news alerts. Just looking over the subjects of recent podcasts, it appears very interesting and appropriate for anybody seeking an informational resource for learning disabilities.

The link above is for just the blog, which is how I found the podcast. However, there is a richer and more comprehensive web site, including the same text from the blog on the podcast's home page,

What first caught my eye, er, ears, was The podcast’s Show #72 which featured an interview with Ben Mitchell, Director of Admissions at
Landmark College.
For those who don’t know, Landmark is a college specializing in presenting a postsecondary learning environment for students with learning disabilities and ADHD.

From that firstintroduction, I checked out the blog and main web page much more thoroughly. I haven’t listened to any more podcasts yet, but, like I said, it strikes me as very interesting. And, the main web site is rich in supportive resources.

Additional: The interview with Ben Mitchell is a two-parter, concluded in Show #73.
Also, for trivia buffs, check out the second part, or read the blog to find out who is the most famous graduate of Landmark College.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Segways, Veterans, and Disney

There’s an interesting article in a recent edition of
USA Today
About the non-profit group
and their Program which Grants Segway personal transporters to disabled veterans.

I thought the scenario the article opened with was interesting. Attempting to give a personal application of the segway’s benefits , the article notes that one man who lost a leg in Iraq used to avoid walking around the amusement park with his wife and 2-year old son, because it was too much for him. Now the man says, with the Segway, he can now stay at the amusement park.

I don’t know which amusement partk that was, but I don’t believe it would be a Disney park. If you don’t already know,
Disney has banned the use of Segways in their parks.

According to the above-linked MSNBC article concerning the Disney ban,
“Disney World isn't the only place to restrict the use of Segways. They're also prohibited at Disney's California parks _ Disneyland and California Adventure. Sea World Orlando says it doesn't allow them for safety reasons and San Francisco last year outlawed them on its sidewalks.”

However, the article notes that Universal Orlando, the resort city’s other major theme park has no policy on the transporters.

Personally, I don’t think that the park should be in the business of telling anybody with a disability what kind of assistive device they can use. While the FDA has not yet classified the Segway as an approved medical device, the machine has developed a niche following among folks with neurological disabilities, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries, each of which can make it difficult for the impaired person to walk.

Instead of outright banning the segways, the parks could look at creating a policy which would be designed to regulate their usage. If the park is concerned because the top speed is faster than most motorized wheelchairs, then I feel certain that their legal eagles could wrangle some legal language to state just how fast they would be restricted to travel. Additionally, they could limit their use to just those with disabilities, indicated by the disabled parking decal or placard they display. The parking attendants could issue a permit to these people when they enter the parking facility.

Disney does not have to allow anybody the use of a Segway in their parks, and until made to change, I’m sure they won’t. Perhaps they believe that as long as they deny the use of Segways to everybody, they are not discriminating. I’ve read where they are being sued over this ban, but being the devices aren’t recognized by the FDA, Disney may be on sound legal footing. However, if the FDA should recognize them, then look out.

It is nonetheless still a sad footnote that the vets receiving these Segways won’t be able to go to the Disney parks with their families. At least not with their Segways.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Accessibility experience teaches how to include pdf presentations into Word documents

I want to present something today that isn’t exactly what Access Ability is about, but it is related as it comes from my own experience in creating accessible documents from inaccessible files.

What prompted the theme for this post was a phone call I received earlier this week, seeking a work-around solution to a document problem. The main file of a particular report was a Microsoft Word document, but there were other parts that included an Excel spreadsheet as well as a 4-page Adobe pdf document. Of course, the Excel portion was able to be placed directly into the Word document as both applications are Microsoft products and made to be integrated in reports such as this, but the pdf file was still an additional piece to the main report. The recipient of the document wanted the electronic report to be all-inclusive, not a Word document with an additional pdf document to be viewed separately. The caller was asking me if I knew of any solution that would save or convert the pdf document into a Word document, so that it could be integrated into the body of the other, main report.

This dilemma caused me to call upon my own experience of taking something and making it accessible, applying a work-around that I’ve used in the past. However, this expertise was something I had learned a few years ago, a time when pdf documents weren’t near as accessible as they are today. What I used to do was to open the pdf document, then print it up. I would then scan it back into the computer and process it with my Kurzweil 1000 OCR software to get the text of the document. (Of course, that was before I figured out what the Kurzweil virtual printer was!)

Now, to solve the caller’s dilemma, I suggested first that they print the pdf file. Then, they would only need to scan it into an open Word document.

That’s it. That would basically take the visual presentation and formatting features of the pdf document and put them directly into a Word document, assuring compatibility with the main body of the report. They would then only need to copy and paste that document into the proper place in the main report. It is what sounds like a simple solution to an apparently complex problem.

What causes me to take pride in this solution is that I was the one who presented it. I was the one who was called after the university’s own tech help desk and other resources had already been called upon, only to leave the caller with no working solution. There is some irony in that a man who is blind and cannot see the visual presentation of pdf documents being the person who resolved this problem when other, more technologically trained folks couldn’t.

I hope this doesn’t come across as being overly proud. I’m just presenting it here, as it may be of use to others. It is really an easy to resolve problem. I feel certain that there are software solutions that could have achieved the same end result in some fashion, but the method I presented worked and didn’t send the caller scrambling to find some program or add-on when time was of the essence. I hope that this work-around is of assistance to others some time in the future.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Is the GOP ignoring people with disabilities?

Access Ability does not usually tend to wade into political waters, but sometimes the worlds of disability rights and politics must inevitably cross. Most recently, they have seemed to do so on the front of the ADA Restoration Act of 2007.

However, some politicians, namely Republicans, would do well to offer an explanation for the events highlighted in a recent article titled,
Why the GOP is ignoring the disabled.

The article, from the online political magazine
spells out several recent occasions where the GOP is ceding the disability rights vote to the Democratic party.

Perhaps there is some greater agenda which the Republican party is pursuing. It does not make any sense for them to let this huge voting block of more than 50 million Americans with disabilities feel alienated.

The article highlights a shift to hardline fiscal conservatism as a possible reason for the GOP’s ignoring the disabled population. If this is because fiscal conservatism is a hallmark of being a Republican, then I would question the past seven years of heightened, Republican-led spending. To this argument, I say, “Damn your shifting definition of fundamentals and do the right thing.”

Then again, the fiscal conservatism argument might explain
Ted Poe’s sidestep
Reply when I asked him to support the ADA Restoration Act of 2007. (Ted Poe is my Republican U.S. Representative.) If this is what Congressman Poe believes, I wish he would have said so instead of dodging the question.

I identify myself as a Republican and have tended to vote conservative, but This may need to be adjusted. I’m but one voice in a sea of millions. More than just me, the Republican party may need to examine what Americans with disabilities are thinking as a whole. If they feel as I do, they are thinking, “If the party platform ignores my basic needs, why should I support the party or its candidates?”

If you haven’t read the article linked above, I encourage you to go back and do so. It presents some serious food for thought.

Texas Tech students seek accessibility

A group of Lubbock students is pursuing an interesting and worthwhile project at Texas Tech University.

The group of four students is proposing that the university make some specific building modifications to make the
Texas Tech campus more accessible
to students with disabilities. The students are emphasizing that one particular building, Holden Hall, be made more accessible. The well presented proposal cites the Americans with Disabilities Act as its support for the merit of such an undertaking.

Not being versed in the particular accessability concerns of the Texas Tech campus, I can not personally comment on the issues raised by the students. However, if the concerns are legitimate, which I will lean towards the students for being accurate, there are some definite needs on the Texas Tech campus.

The students have made a good faith effort to present their case. I wish them well in this pursuit and look forward to seeing the outcome of their work.

Friday, November 16, 2007

AMIS and GOCR: two free assistive technology programs

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

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

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

Now, about the software…

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Collection of sources for public domain e-Books

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

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

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

Updated: Latest news about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007

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

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

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

Below are details from the news release:

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

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

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

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

For more information go to:

and for tour photos, go to:

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

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

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

Update: 11/16/07

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2007

A growing collection of Cerebral Palsy resources by state

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Music Within is our movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yahoo acknowledges inaccessible content, yet still fails to innovate

Well, if this doesn’t take the cake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 05, 2007

Raising awareness about DSS office and services

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Useful guide on interacting with people with different disabilities

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

The opening paragraph sets up much of what follows.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More discussion on service animals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Disaboom strives to be online social community for people with disabilities

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

A: Well, you’d get,
Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two advances in accessibility: Kurzweil 3000 USB and WOWIO

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

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


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

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

White Cane Safety Day is upon us

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

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

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

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

Disability professional teaches class on using ASL to communicate with infants

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

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

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

Link to the Houston Chronicle article:

Friday, October 12, 2007

University of Arizona to loan laptops to students with learning disabilities

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Updated: New, innovative reading service for the blind

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

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

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

The service works like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 05, 2007

Freedom Scientific says no to access for deaf people

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

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

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

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

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

Of course they do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think he missed my point, though.

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2007

Warning...pause in blogging ahead

Just to give regular readers a head's up...

I'll be away from the computer, or without internet access at least, for the next 10 days or so, meanign that there will be no new posts here on Access Ability.

I promise that I will jump right back into blogging once I return to Access Ability HQ.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

College Internship Program offers promise for students with Aspergers and learning differences

Imagine a college internship geared specifically towards students with learning differences and Aspergers. Now, what if I told you that this is not just in the imagination, but a reality which is already up and running.

I first learned about the
College Internship Program,
Or CIP, on the latest edition of the
Disability 411 podcast.
On D-411's Show 47, host Beth Case interviews Janet Miller, the Program Director of CIP’s newly-opened Berkeley, California psite.

So what exactly is CIP?

According to Ms. Miller, CIP is “a residential program for 18-25 (sometimes 26) year olds with Asperger’s and non-verbal learning disability predominantly. We do have some other students who enter.”

The Berkeley Center is the fourth program that CIP operates. The other programs are at the Berkshires in Lee, Massachusetts, the Brevard Center in Melbourne, Florida, and Bloomington, Indiana.

There is a lot of information about the CIP program in the interview. Basically, it is a residential program to work on the social deficits or independent living problems that are common with Asperger’s and learning disabilities, coupled with at least one college class for the students to gain academic experience. It is a 3-4 year program with, what Ms. Miller describes as what appears to be a high cost. However, she emphasizes that CIP does have funding sources available, including an alliance with Sally Mae.

Something I personally found very intriguing in the D-411 interview was the story about Dr. Michael McMannon, CIP’s Executive Director and founder of the program. Miller says, “He will tell you right out on his website that he himself, in his fifties, like five or six years ago, was diagnosed with Asperger’s… Here’s this man who had been a high, high functioning multi-tasker guy, you know, who had an employee, a longtime employee, come to him with a list a few years ago and said, “Michael, here’s a list of twenty traits of something called Aspberger’s Syndrome. You have nineteen of them.” From this, Dr. McMannon drew his inspiration to develop CIP.

For more comprehensive information about the program, check out the CIP web site and also the podcast.
(Note: The Disability 411 podcasts are always posted with a transcript available. If you are unable to listen to the audio, then click on the link and read the transcript. Like I’ve said before, if your work is worth producing in the first place, then it is worth producing in an alternate format.)

Finally, if you want the latest information about the program, CIP also provides updates on the
Asperger’s Syndrome & LD Blog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Disability Nation, an audio magazine by and for people with disabilities

I have just returned from the web site for the
Disability Nation podcast.

If you are not familiar with Disability Nation (DN), then do check out their site. According to the home page, DN is “an audio magazine by and for people with disabilities” and covers a broad array of topics related to different disabilities. As an added perk the site does offer email notification to let you know when new shows are available.

In a previous post, I mentioned that it would be interesting to see if the site offered transcripts to their podcast as one reader had requested to ensure accessibility for people who are deaf.

Cheers to Disability Nation as they have transcripts for, not only that show, but also for their last several podcasts available, in either PDF or in Word format.

Good work there, DN.

It is encouraging to see that a service targeted towards an audience of people with disabilities ensures inclusion for all, especially when they are aware that an audience exists that requires an alternative format of their material. If your material is worth producing in the first place, it is definitely worth producing in an alternative format.

Dancing around the issues: Ted Poe's reply about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007

The purpose of Access Ability is not to be a political blog, but is focused on pursuing interests relating to the world of Disability Support Services. However, there are times when the goals of Access Ability and politics collide. The following is the account of such an intersection.

What is one to make of his congressman when given lip service? Sure, it was politically correct, but it was still lip service.

Case in point is the reply I received from my Representative
Ted Poe, R-TX,
In response to my email asking him to sign on as a cosponsor of H.R. 3195, the
ADA Restoration Act of 2007.

In his response, Rep. Poe gave me a rundown of the bill’s assignment for review and he followed this up by thanking me for sharing my concerns with him.

However, at no time did he acknowledge my request for him to sign on as a cosponsor, nor did he ever state whether he would or wouldn’t sign on as a cosponsor of the legislation. However, by his omission, I’ll assume he’s declining my request.

Rep. Poe's reply and obvious omission harken back to Charles Durning playing the Texas Governor in the movie Best Little Whorehouse in Texas when he busts into a jig, singing “I Dance A Little Sidestep.”

Nice move, Mr. Poe. Was that a cha-cha or just a flat-out hustle?

I understand politics and try not to take them personally. However, I take the ADA personally. It is the backbone to so many aspects of things I enjoy and understand today. If it weren’t for the ADA, I shudder to think what my college experience might have been, much less what might have been in several other facets of my everyday life. So, I take it personally that Rep. Poe has slighted my request.

I now need to think through how to proceed from here.

Okay, I’ve shared my experience of contacting my congressman in support of this legislation. I have three questions for you.

1. Have you written your Representative and done the same?

2. If so, what was your Representative’s response?

3. Any suggestions on how to proceed with Rep.Poe?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Biblio Vault offers accessible scholarly publications

If you don’t already know about it,
Biblio Vault
is the home page for a service offering books that have been published by scholarly presses. The home page has a searchable database with more than 14,000 titles which academic and university presses have published. The user’s search can be narrowed by author, title, or ISBN.

What makes this a good tool for the disability services professionals is that the home page includes a specific message to disability officers, informing them that they are able to provide accessible formats of many of their documents, which students can then access using assistive technology. Producing these accessible documents and making them available to students with print disabilities is one of the services Biblio Vault offers to participating presses.

An additional benchmark is the site’s offer to make their services --including scanning, printing, and conversion-- available to publishers which, in turn, should help grow the collection of accessible scholarly publications.

This is not a new site. Biblio Vault has been in place since 2001, when it was started by the University of Chicago Press, and now serves more than 50 university presses.

The key for the site’s success is awareness of its presence. This begins with you being aware of it. Now that you are, utilize it and share it with your students. Also, if you are at a school that has a scholarly press, share this resource with them and emphasize to them the accessibility that comes with this kind of service.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A truly accessible emergency notification system

I have just learned about a useful free service for notifying people who are deaf of emergency situations in their local area or state.

Deaf Link is in the process of broadening the database for their
Accessible Hazard Alert System-Individual Notification
Or (AHAS-IN), which will notify deaf consumers of emergency notifications sent out by city, county, or state agencies. The notifications will be sent to user-supplied email addresses, text pagers, cell phones with text messaging, or PDAs with the ability to email.

The emergency notification can be received in American Sign Language (ASL), English text, voice and can also be received by Braille capable devices for blind or deaf and blind citizens.

Deaf Link is working to broaden its database and attempting to gather contact numbers and email addresses, as well as state and zip code information, for people who are deaf. At the web site linked above, the service providers are making the following plea for assistance:

““In order for this system to provide you and your family with this potentially life saving information, we need your help. We are expanding our database of email addresses, text pagers with ZIP codes of individuals who are Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, Late Deafened, Deaf and Blind and Blind who live in the United States. This service will attempt to notify you if an emergency/hazard happens in your area through the email/pager/text phone/PDA address you provide.. This alert system is in addition to alerts on the television and any other hazard information you have access to. We are expanding this service across the United States. We can only alert you and your family members if you are in our AHAS-IN database.”
Users do not need to submit their name or address, only email address, text pager address and/or other assistive capable devices and the county, state and ZIP code where they live/work. This user information is good for one year.

I heartily encourage you to share this site with anybody who is deaf, perhaps even with those who are blind. It is an accessible means of communicating emergency information to them in a timely manner.

This service appears very encouraging as the providers seem to have taken the necessary steps to truly know their audience’s needs. Also, note that it is apparently not available in all areas yet, but they promise to contact users when it is working in their areas via the provided contact number or email address.

Note: I do have a personal gripe with the web site as it has audio which automatically loads with the page. This makes it difficult to browse the web site information with a screen reader using speech output.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Breastfeeding mom denied extra time

There is an interesting case being appealed before the National Board of Medical Examiners. This case is a gray area, blurred because it is framed by societal issues, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the health concerns of a nursing mother, playing out against the backdrop of the rigid enforcement structure of the Clinical Knowledge Exam.

Sophie Currier
Already has her Harvard doctorate and has followed that up with five years of medical training. The final barrier that is keeping her from having a hard-earned MD-Ph.D. is the aforementioned exam.
(Note: registration is required to read this Boston Globe article, but it is free and easy.)

To understand this case fully, you need to know that Currier is the mother of a still nursing, 7-week old daughter. According to the article linked above, “If she does not pump milk from her breasts every two or three hours, she could suffer blocked ducts, the discomfort of hard breasts, or an infection called mastitis.”

Currier is receiving accommodations for dyslexia and attention problems. This includes giving her double time for the nine-hour exam, letting her take the test over a two-day period. On the surface, this may appear to help ameliorate her problems, but it only doubled them, allowing her only the normally allowed break times each day.

She asked the board last week for extra break time to allow her to pump her breasts, but was denied. The board cited the Americans with Disabilities Act as their guide and told her that breastfeeding was not among the covered disabilities.

Yes, it is true that, under the ADA, pregnancy, lactation and related actions such as breast feeding and breast pumping are not covered by the law. However, what they are dealing with in this case are health concerns of the mother. Granted, the short time that she will be subjected to testing is not guaranteed to incur the possible adverse physical results that are possible. Still, there are health concerns that are not necessarily disabilities, no matter how temporary the condition is.

According to the article, “Forty-seven states have passed laws that protect nursing mothers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many protect the right of mothers to breast-feed in public, and some exempt them from jury duty, where breaks can be few and unpredictable.” Unfortunately for Currier, Massachusetts, where her case is playing out, has no such laws at this time.

It is interesting that one of Currier’s advocates, Dr. Ruth Lawrence, is a chairwoman on the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here, a medical professional is speaking on Currier’s behalf against the medical testing establishment. Ironic, isn’t it?

“Lawrence said the nursing mother of an infant that age should pump at a minimum of every three hours, for about one half-hour each time. The academy recommends that babies be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months .”

It is understandable that the exam board is trying to avoid setting a precedent, but they need to use the ADA as a guide, not a rigid rule that does not allow for gray areas such as this. A warden once had a sign hanging in his office that read, “When the rules and common sense collide, common sense shall prevail.” Currier’s case is one where common sense should be victorious.

Additional Reading:
Here is a 2006 Boston Globe article about Currier, illustrating how she manages her busy and demanding
life while dealing with dyslexia and ADHD.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

growing up with a disability offers grown up insight

I just came across
Growing up with a disability,
A blog written by David , a college student who understands so much more than his 21 years belie.

Evidence of this maturity is spelled out very clearly on his blog’s “About” page:
“I am 21 years old and am taking a year away from college to pursue this project. I like sports, music, travel, and conversation. And, I have cerebral palsy.”
“I believe society often underestimates the complexity of living with a disability - the joys, the challenges, the ordinary, and the extraordinary. “

There are two points worthy of noting in those statements.

First, Did you notice how he identified himself? Not only did he take the person first approach, but the cerebral palsy was included almost as a footnote. Yes, he happens to have a disability; however, this is but one facet of David’s character, which is overly abundant in his writings.

Secondly, in the last statement, he speaks volumes when he said, “the ordinary, and the extraordinary.”

The general public categorizes people with visible disabilities which are classified as severe all too often in one of either two bins-- the “poor soul” category with no semblance of normality in life, or the “supercrip” who is the maximum over-achiever, and moste suredly an anomaly amongst his or her disabled peers. However, like David points out, many people with these extreme disabilities would probably call their lives ordinary.

I am making a genralization in that last statement, but am speaking from the many conversations I’ve had with friends whose disabilities span a broad spectrum of conditions and limitations. These people have a life, family, friends, and enjoy activities and hobbies like most ordinary folks. They may have to go about these activities a little different to participate, but the enjoyment is the same. They are just ordinary people, but happen to have a disability.

Okay, enough pontificating from me. Good work there, David for putting so succinctly what it took me a couple of paragraphs to write out.

One particular post I found interesting on David’s blog was his most recent, Sept. 9 post about going to college. In that post, he spells out the assistive technologies of all sorts which has served him well and gives credit to an often overlooked genius among his helpers. This post also says a lot about the individual resourcefulness each of us provides and how we can all benefit from synergy. Not to mention, that post has some very useful tips on adaptations, remedies, and fixes others might find useful.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Patricia E Bauer offers professionally written resource blog for disabilities

I have been reading a blog regularly for a couple of weeks now that I want to share with you.

It is written by
Patricia E. Bauer,
“a freelance journalist who is fascinated by the convergence of science, medicine, ethics, public policy, disability and the media.”

Ms. Bauer has professional writing credentials to be envied. According to the blog site, “She has served as senior editor of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine; special assistant to the publisher of the Washington Post; reporter and bureau chief at the Washington Post, and pundit on public affairs television in Los Angeles. Her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times and many other publications.”

Her interest in disabilities and the related issues of this domain may stem from the fact that she and her husband are parents to two children, one of whom has Down syndrome and is a leukemia survivor.

As one might expect of a professional journalist, her writing is of top-notch caliber and her resources of information for the blog are broad reaching.

The blog site is rich in news and issues concerning a bast spectrum of disabilities. It is definitely a site to check regularly or put into your RSS feeds.

Friday, September 07, 2007

More about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007

Two pieces of news about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007.

First, the
Road to Freedom
is a bus tour which is currently crossing the country and aiming to raise awareness about the pending legislation. The Road to Freedom web site has the latest news and appearances of the bus, as well as other useful links such as “What You Can Do”; The site also has a store as well as a blog to help chronicle the endeavors of the dedicated crew.

Additionally, for the latest information about the status of the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, you might want to grab the upcoming episode 41 of
Disability Nation Podcast.
The episode will air on Sunday, Sept. 9 and will feature some interesting aspects, including the Disability Legislative Liaison for Iowa Senator Tom Harkin .

At this time, it is a bit unclear if there will be a text transcript of this podcast available. One has been requested of the creator of the Disability Nation Podcast and I will be interested to see his response.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Some resources for students with ADHD or LD

Here are a couple of resources that might be of assistance for anybody dealing with either Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a Learning Disability (LD).

The first is a blog, written by a woman named Shane, with a straightforward name, the
ADHD & LD Resource blog.
Shane has some credibility, not to mention motivation, in understanding the subject of her blog, as she is a stay at home mom of a 10-year old son with ADHD and three LDs, and she has tried to gather as much information as she can to understand her son’s needs. As these needs evolve, so does her blog.

Reading over Shane’s postings, there are obvious signs that she is writing about a preteen and his family who are learning to manage his disability. So, you might be asking why I am writing about this blog on Access Ability, whose target is postsecondary students and the professionals who work with them? Easy. In my own experience, I’ve observed that there are many people who don’t learn of their ADHD or LD until adulthood, particularly when struggling through college courses that have become distressing way beyond the coping skills that have previously served to help them compensate. Shane's information and resources can serve anybody with ADHD or an LD, regardless of age.

Shane’s blog is a good resource for both ADHD and LD, but, as she admits, she does draw a lot of information from,
A web site dedicated to being a “parent’s guide to helping kids with learning difficulties.”

The Schwab Learning site is completely searchable, with informational dropdown boxes that include “postsecondary” as an education level, so you DSS professionals might be able to find some resources here that you didn’t already know about. And, if you already know about Schwab Learning, let this serve as a reminder to share the site with your students who could add it to their toolbox of resources.

And, don’t forget to share Shane’s blog with them as well.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sometimes, we just need to ask

Sometimes to get something, we just need to ask.

The reasoning behind that seemingly simple statement was the experience I had via email this past week with the lead web developer of
The Cove Herald
in my hometown. I initially stated that the new design for the newspaper’s online site wasn’t working for my screen reader. In subsequent dialogue with this man, I was able to identify the probable culprit— the site’s Flash animation – and give a good description of what I was experiencing.

We began our correspondence exchange when I sent my initial email to him late Thursday. The man wrote me back on Friday morning, asking what it was that I was having problems with. I wrote him back on Saturday morning, describing the hang-ups with what I was certain was the Flash animation and told him what was going on as I tried to find the sports section. After the long weekend for labor day, during which this man was appropriately off, he returned my last email and offered suggestions that he might employ on the site and asked if that would help my accessibility. He was right on target on what he offered and I am looking forward to my next visit to the web site.

This was not only self advocacy at work, but is also an open-minded web developer in tune with what his readers need. His insight in understanding that we don't all access information the same way sets the standard that other IT professionals should model. Thanks, Mr. Gietz.

Two sites offering wheelchair perspective

I have been following a couple of web sites for a little while I want to share with you. They are related as both are written by men who use wheelchairs. However, in some ways, that is where they split. They are different, as the first offers the resources of a professional rehab counselor and the other is a savvy and literate mobility expert. Their similarities are the strength of the resource each provides.

The first one is a web site titled
Pitt Rehab Counselor,
Written by Greg Traynor, a man who had a spinal cord injury while diving in 1999. As the web site’s title indicates, he is a rehab counselor in Pittsburgh.

On his site, Greg provides some useful links under various categories ranging from accessible entertainment to a variety of adaptive activities including driving, gardening, and sports. He also provides a good gathering of other resources, which is where I found the second site I want to share with you.
Is a site operated by Mark E. Smith, a self proclaimed mobility superstar. I can not vouch for Mark’s mobility skills, but will take him at his word on that. However, I can attest to his ability to capture thoughts and events in a manner which grabs the reader’s attention. On his site, which seems to be a gathering place for his latest blog entries, Mark describes day-to-day encounters and thoughts he has in a direct, yet personable style. He is both candid, as evidenced by his post about
Equality at the Strip Club,
and also very insightful to the world of disabilities. For proof of the latter, read his
July 27, 2007 post
where he compares the level of rehab care one gets from the perspective of sudden trauma versus progressive disabilities.

I know there are other disability related blogs and web sites that are worth noting. Trust me, I read many of them regularly. I have just been impressed with these two sites lately and wanted to share them.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Dream job survey sparks thought

I found the results of a recent survey interesting and, like all good research, it triggered a subsequent response.

The 2007 Universum online survey polled more than 44,000 college students across the U.S., asking the students about which company they felt had their
dream job.

Okay, that sample pool is broad enough to give some good informational data. Here’s the thought it triggered for me. What about the students with disabilities, which companies would they ideally love to work for?

I feel certain that there were students with disabilities among the survey participants, but did not read anything differentiating their data from the general pool. I think this might be an interesting research project for somebody with the time and resources to conduct, to see how much the realities that come with living with a disability tempers one’s dreams, including the dream job.

I personally know how the impact of a disability can force one to let go of one dream job, but once that happens, new dreams emerge and these dreams allow for the needs that are associated with that disability.

Any thoughts on this?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Abilities Expo appears to be doing it right

By George, I think Minneapolis is onto something!

They have announced an upcoming Abilities Expo That will take place from Sept. 7-9, 2007.

A variety of organizations on both the national and local levels will be present at the expo to showcase the latest in daily living aids, athletic equipment, mobility products, computer ware, and assistive technology. The products will be displayed in a manner that will allow attendees to see, test and compare the items.

Check out the press release below for an extensive listing of planned activities. The organizers of this event have put a lot of thought into bringing together a large group of products that can assist people with disabilities. Where else can one find Microsoft hosting the assistive technology pavilion, Liberty bikes designed for those with disabilities, the Paragolfer outdoor wheelchair, and even a fashion show with designs for wheelchairs?

I think the organizers have done their homework to gather just the right collection of resources for this event. There is certainly a lot of potential here. The organizers present an expo that would probably do well in any large city. It is definitely a model worth emulating.

At the bottom of the press release, I noticed that the organizers of this event have
their own web site,
where I learned they have also presented the Abilities Expo earlier this year in San Antonio, New York, and Southern California. There is some information specific to the upcoming Minneapolis expo on this site, as well as the ability to print a free admission ticket.

August 30, 2007 02:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Dozens of Special Events Scheduled for Abilities Expo/ Minneapolis Including Kids Day Set for Saturday, September 8th

Microsoft Corporation to Sponsor Assistive Technology Pavilion

Abilities Expo

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--For the first time Abilities Expo will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center from Friday, September 7 and continue through Sunday, September 9, 2007. This three-day event is the one show dedicated to educating and improving the lives of people with disabilities, senior citizens, their families & caregivers, as well as healthcare and education professionals.

“There will be many local and national organizations who will be showcasing everything from computers to athletic equipment and mobility products to daily living aids - all conveniently displayed to see, test and compare,” said Veronica Gonnello, Show Manager for Abilities Expo. “We welcome persons with disabilities and their caretakers to join us to see all of the latest products; participate in exciting activities and hear from dozens of industry experts.”

Show Highlights include:

• Kids Day will take place on Saturday, September 8th and will feature several organizations offering activities specifically geared towards children living with a disability. Activities include sports demonstrations, a fashion show and much much more.
• Assistive Technology Pavilion Sponsored by Microsoft Technology will be showcasing the newest in assistive technology in booth 405 as well as hosting multiple FREE workshops. Partners include GW Micro
Somatic Digital
and ViewPlus Technologies
• Active Living Magazine will be giving away 2500 FREE BLAST cards and prizes in their Booth 202. Prizes include Golf XPress Single Rider Car – ($6,995); Automobility Hand Controls – ($1,000); TotinBonez Golf Clubs – ($499); Eureka Tent – ($429); Foot Flush – ($360); Epiphany Design – ($300); Yves Rocher Gift Basket – ($110); and Lasher Sport - T-shirts and Hats.
• Golf Pavilion: Includes clinics, products and prizes Sponsored by United States Golf Association, ParaBaseTec GMBH and Pat MacDonald, US Table Tennis Champion and US Pro Golfer who will also be hosting Table Tennis demonstrations and Team Registration sign ups.
• A Fashion show: Lulu's Designs co/sponsored by PowerPlay Manufacturing will be hosting a fashion show with designs for wheelchairs.
• Fast Paced Sports include: Hockey: Sponsored by Power Hockey and Xtreme Medical; Basketball and Power Soccer: Sponsored by The Courage Center; Quad Rugby: Sponsored by Coloplast and the Minnesota North Stars; Football: Sponsored by Xtreme Medical
• Stationary sports and events: Attendees can also test the ParaGolfer (outdoor wheelchair with Standup function), Sponsored by Parabasetec. There will also be Fitness Clinics with the Vitaglide: Sponsored by RehaMed International.
• TRIKES AND BIKES: Liberator Trikes (booth 326) will be showcasing the “Liberator”. This unique motorcycle was designed for the physically challenged rider or driver
• Safety Features (booth 227)
will highlight their special features allowing people to control their bike at low speeds. With a flip of a switch, two extra wheels provide stability
and confidence.

Attendees will have a chance to discover and learn about new products and services all conveniently displayed to see, test and compare. Exhibiting companies include Microsoft and their assistive technology partners, Cummings Mobility Conversions, Permobil, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Courage Center, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, National Spinal Cord Injury Association, American Association of Intensive Pediatric Physical Therapy and, many local organizations from Minnesota.

The educational curriculum focuses on relevant topics addressing life today for individuals with disabilities, their family and caregivers. The comprehensive workshop programs will consist of consumer and professional tracks, with certificates of participation available to students, and education and healthcare professionals.

Special show services will be available for attendees including Complimentary Wheelchair Repair. Loaner Wheelchairs will be available. For People with Visual Impairments, there will be special workshops and exhibitor information handouts available in large type. For People with Hearing Impairments, there will be a sign language interpreter available to assist persons who are deaf or hearing impaired, for a reasonable length of time per person.

On-site admission to Abilities Expo is $5; children under 12 are free. You may visit
to print out the coupon for FREE admission. Requested information must be filled out for this free admission form to be valid.

WHEN: Friday, September 7, 2007, 10 am - 5 pm
Saturday, September 8, 2007, 10 am - 5 pm
Sunday, September 9, 2007, 11 am - 4 pm

WHERE: Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 2nd Ave. S.
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403

PRODUCED & Questex Media Group
MANAGED BY: 800-385-3085


Media Relations for Abilities Expo
Amy Riemer, 978-475-4441

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Great resource for free Assistive Technology

During my daily readings for news and information to write about here, I often come across different pieces of assistive technology that are available for free. However, the individual items are usually offered by as many different vendors as there are varying flavors of disabilities. So, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a web site that could serve as a one-stop location for free assistive technology?

Well, I’m here today to tell you that this is no longer just a wish. Steve Jacobs has created a web site that is just that, a
1 Stop for Free Assistive Technology.

The site has a lengthy alphabetical listing of more than 200 products with links to the providers of the assistive technology. It is a good gathering of many applications, but the site’s owner realizes that it can always be enhanced with additions that he is not aware of. To address this, there is an invitation to email him with information about other products that are not listed.

I do have one bone to pick with the site, but it is a minor one. Mr. Jacobs seems aware of the web site’s target audience and the technology some might use, so there is a link for a screen reader friendly version of the list. I was going to open that page in another window so I could compare it with the normal site to see if there were any differences worth noting. However, each time I tried to access the screen reader friendly version, I got the dreaded “404” error, informing me that this web page could not be found.

Oh well…at least it sounded like a good idea to offer that page. Perhaps that link will soon be repaired and that screen reader friendly site will actually work.

For what its worth, I am using JAWS 8.0 and had no problem reading the list on the site’s regular page. If there are some issues with screen readers other than JAWS, which may cause the list to not be readable using them,then I’m unaware of these.

Still, I won’t let my thoughts on a great idea be dampened by one little glitch such as that one link that didn’t work as it was supposed to. It is a great idea to gather all these resources in one place.

I encourage you to take some time to browse the site and see if there is some AT here that you could benefit from. It is definitely a resource worth bookmarking and sharing with your students and colleagues.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Service dogs perform variety of roles

I recently came across a very thorough and comprhehensive discussion about
Balance Dogs and MS
On a blog named Sophie’s Thoughts.

I must admit that, while I have been familiar with the general term of Service dogs and the more specialized guide dogs, I have never heard the equally specialized term “balance dog.” It makes sense, though. A few years back, I met a professor at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor who used a wheelchair and had an assistance dog. She didn’t call her dog a balance dog, but after reading Sophie’s blog, I would think that was a pretty good description of what he did. Sure, the dog did other tasks for the woman, but I’ll never forget one role the canine performed that sticks out in my mind still today. During a presentation, I heard the professor discuss how her dog assisted in transfers from her chair. To perform this task, when commanded, the dog would lock his leg joints to allow her to support herself on his back and execute the transfer. I’m still fascinated today with this specialized role that a dog can provide.

Sophie’s blog post linked above has some general information about service dogs, including legal issues. She also provides a list of other muscular disabilities, aside from MS, where an assistance dog may be able to benefit somebody with one of these disabilities.

Monday, August 27, 2007

ADA Restoration Act of 2007 reference sites

To help interested parties stay abreast on what is going on with the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, I offer the following two links.

First, there is a blog specifically dedicated to
The ADA Restoration Act of 2007.
In addition to the latest updates and co-sponsors of the legislation, this informative blog has links to press releases tracking the progress of the bills in both houses of Congress.

Secondly, there is the ReunifyGally blog that is gathering
links to all blogs that write about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007.

FYI, ReunifyGally is referring to reunifying
Gallaudet University.
From the “About” page on the ReunifyGally web site:
“I established this blog in the hope of helping to support the healing and reunification of the Gallaudet community by enabling dialogue on sensitive topics raised by the protests. By “Gallaudet community,” I mean both people on campus and also those of us across the country and around the world who feel some link to Gallaudet, whether or not we have ever been there. “