Friday, February 29, 2008

Jumping into the stream...Light blogging ahead; Campus makes facilities equally accessible

I anticipate light blogging for the next few days. I just received my new tech toy, a Victor Stream Reader, the digital media player manufactured by
The VRS playes a variety of media files, including mp3, wav, DAISY, and will even read documents. It also has a built-in voice recorder. The VRS has been wildly popular among the blind/VI community, leading one friend to recently call it the “iPod for blind people.”

There is a slight learning curve to the device, but I'm also going to load my SD card with some books and audio files to give the unit a good workout. I'll be off swimming in the stream for the next few days.

While I’m gone, here’s something to peruse on this fine leap day.

News about how a Tennessee
Campus made its facilities equally accessible.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Abilene Christian University gives away iPhones, but seems to have forgotten accessibility

If you haven’t heard, Abilene Christian University is
giving iPhones and Ipod Touch players to incoming freshmen.

I personally think its great when universities embrace technological advances and strive to understand the digital convergence taking place in the lives of their students.

However, maybe these people are acting a bit hasty. Do the great minds that comprise the ACU administration not realize that the
whizbang technology of the Apple touchscreen lacks accessibility?

What about incoming freshmen who are unable to access the information on their Apple device due to a motor impairment or blindness, precluding them from effectively using the touchscreen?

I wondered that myself and, in the interest of giving a fair presentation about this matter, contacted Lynne Bruton, the university’s
media contact person.
In my email, I informed her that accessible cell phones exist which can employ voice commands or screen readers that provide inclusion for all. At this time, I’ve not received a reply from Ms. Bruton; however, I will update this post when I do.

To the administration of ACU, I offer a phrase I coined a few years back: “If you’re not including somebody, then you’re excluding them.” These administrators are now aware that their decision, while grand and headline-garnering for offering up these cool Apple products, fall a bit short of offering a usable option for everybody.

For the record, I am not an Apple hater. What I am, though, is an advocate for accessibility and inclusion.

KNFB Reader Mobile also marketed as assistive technology for LD

Realizing the multi-faceted strengths of its product, the manufacturer of the
KNFB Reader Mobile
Is now also marketing the
handheld OCR device to people with learning disabilities.

The latest stage for the innovative assistive technology device is the Chicago Hilton, the host of the currently on-going annual conference of the
Learning Disabilities Association of America.
(Warning: this site had audio streaming when I loaded it. I don’t know if that is always the case, but be warned.)

Product information from the official KNFB press release:

“The pocket-sized device is the first of its kind, and enables users to take pictures of and then read most printed materials at the push of a button, using the high-resolution camera in the state-of-the-art Nokia N82 cell phone. Users can hear documents, signs, menus, receipts, even currency - most any printed text - read aloud in clear synthetic speech, at an adjustable speed.”

“KNFB Reading Technology is the brain child of Ray Kurzweil, a thirty-year innovator and pioneer in assistive technologies and the inventor of the world's first print-to-speech reading machine. The kReader uses a combination of unique intelligent image-processing software with text-to-speech and text-tracking features, which makes interpreting text much easier for individuals with learning disabilities. They can now enlarge, read, track, and highlight text using the phone's large, easy-to-read display.”

Given the background of the Kurzweil 1000 and 3000 products, the KNFB Reader Mobile seems a logical advance in integration of these two pieces of assistive technology. Using the video screen of the cell phone as a text magnifier for people who are visually impaired seems like a no-brainer, but I tip my hat to Mr. Kurzweil for employing the K3000 aspects in the Mobile Reader to also make it usable by people with LD.

If interested in pricing and related information, you may wish to read my
earlier post announcing this product.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pro-Bank is database of programs targeting youths with disabilities

While looking over some of the searches that draw people to Access Ability, I noticed one from somebody who was searching for online databases. This subject sounded interesting enough to explore, so I checked out some of the query returns and found one that I think merits attention here.

Is a database of programs geared towards youth with disabilities. It isn’t exactly the postsecondary group of students that many disability service professionals interact with, but if you are like I was at my last position, you probably have a good number of high school contacts as part of a transition program. This is a useful database to share with the high school folks and their students.

Below is information about the database from the web site:

Pro-Bank is an online database of promising programs and practices in the workforce development system that effectively addresses the needs of youth with disabilities. Pro-Bank was established to:

• Provide you with easily accessible information about promising practices through a trusted resource;
• Supply you with information that can be used to improve products and services within your own programs; and
• Promote quality program services to youth with disabilities throughout the workforce development system.

Web accessibility acknowledged as a CAPTCHA concern in Ars Technica

While it wasn’t necessarily directed at being an article about assistive technology, or web accessibility for users of such, a recent Ars Technica article nonetheless address these concerns when describing how
Google’s Gmail CAPTCHA was able to be cracked.

(CAPTCHAs are those squiggly letters and numbers internet users sometimes have to type into a form field to prove they are not a robot.)

In the article, the author describes some alternative means of creating CAPTCHAs to avoid getting cracked by malicious spam robots. Two of the alternative methods mentioned are audio CAPTCHA and an another one where the user has to select a number of similar visual images.

What was most noteworthy, though, was that this article was in
Ars Technica,
a well respected magazine for technology enthusiasts, and after describing those two alternative means, it spelled out the difficulty these types place on people who are hard of hearing and blind, respectively.

It is encouraging to see accessibility raised as a concern in a professional discussion on web security. While it may not affect the majority, those who are impacted know the hardships that being ignored places on them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 is rich resource; News about Swiss bionic eye implant

I just learned about a web site, which I want to share with you. It is of value as a rich visual impairment/blindness resource.
Is a web site that is useful for both its initial offering of a supplemental Amsler grid for patients who have been instructed by their eye doctor to monitor their vision at home, as well as for the wealth of news regarding vision, blindness, and on-going research relating to these subjects.

I’m finding news articles here related to blindness that I’ve not found elsewhere. I’m definitely bookmarking this site!

One interesting news story I found on the site was that
A patient in Switzerland has received a bionic eye implant.

The patient in the article received an Argus II implant, which will remain in place for approximately three years.
The device uses technology, which was only being inaugurated when I wrote a research paper for an undergrad writing class several years ago. It involves a camera mounted on a pair of eyeglasses that takes in the images, and then sends them to a processor on a belt clip, which then sends them back to the eyeglasses where a receiver sends them to electrodes for subsequent processing in the brain.

Projections are that future recipients will enjoy increased refinements in technology as well in their vision beyond the shape, object, and place recognition currently available.

This event was news to me, as I’ve been aware of the research being done, but not that any of these implants had actually been performed. Not only has this been done in Switzerland, but also the article notes there have already been ten other similar procedures done globally.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Updated: Six resume writing tips worth remembering

A sharp and outstanding resume is key for anybody getting hired, no matter what the position. This point is just as true for somebody seeking their first job, or their twenty-first job. And, this is also true for anybody, not only students with disabilities.

Now, with all that said, I want to emphasize that it is imperative for students with disabilities to master this critical aspect of job hunting. To be considered qualified for a job, and to get invited to that all-important personal interview, where you can personally demonstrate your professional competence despite your disabilities, one must first present yourself with a strong impression on paper. If you can’t get this particular fine point down, it won’t matter how well prepared you are for the interview. If the employer isn’t impressed with your resume, then you won’t be called for the interview.

In my graduate-level class on professional practice, we explored resume writing as a quintessential tool for marketing and employment. Perhaps it was my specific school’s leaning, and things were different in the school of business, but we were taught to write a two-page resume and instructed that this was the preferred format.

I also learned of different styles through my own involvement in shared governance, when I was a student representative on various job search committees. In that role, I saw everything from the lengthy c.v. of academic professionals to the tidy, one-page business brief, as well as many of the two-page variety I had been schooled in. However, I always marveled at a sharply written, one-page resume that said what it needed to say without wasting my time.

This is all background, leading to the meat of today's post. At a recent professional development seminar, two successful, business consultants highlighted the value and importance of the one-page resume to the audience. In their explanations, they also reminded me of some important resume writing tips that any soon to be graduate would be wise to remember.

1. Put your greatest strengths in the top third of the resume.

This is what the reviewer will see first and will make the greatest impression on him/her. This means you need to get your strengths mentioned in your profile/objective and in your most recent job skills.

2. Keep the resume limited to one page.

One reviewer said that if somebody turns in a five-page resume, many reviewers would probably throw it aside or in the trash, because they don't have the time to read it. She said this is true of most hiring executives, their time is precious, so make the most of it.

3. Make sure you list your computer skills.

A good rule is to list that you are familiar with MS Office Suite, as it is the most common package for workload production. It includes Access, Excel, Powerpoint, and Word. You don't have to be great in all of the applications, but should have one or two definite areas of strength among the applications. Also, make sure that you are familiar in how to use each of the programs, even if you aren’t totally proficient in all of them.
Also, make sure that you list the computer programs which you use regularly and are familiar with.

4. Don't worry if you have some information or employer left off.

A statement at the bottom of your resume should read "additional information and references upon request."
If they are interested in you, they can ask for more. The key is to get them interested in you in this one page of information.

5. Write your resume specifically for the job you're applying for.

Do not use one resume for every job you apply for. Tailor the resume to the job you're applying for. Look at the job description and see what the posting says are the necessary skills needed to do the job. Then write the resume to highlight your experience and how it gives you these skills.

6. Don't forget to write something about personal information.

They want to know the person you are away from work, where your passions and interests lie. This should include, at a minimum, your interests and community involvement.

I've heard differing information about resume writing in my experience, but this was coming from seasoned professionals in the field, so I take it as golden advice.

Update 02/26/08

Note: People who are interested in this post might also want to read my previous posts about
A useful web Site for job seekers with disabilities,
Job interview tips for soon to be graduates.

Accessibility checkers for web developers; WebXact, Bobby no longer available, but many alternatives exist

Being that the Watchfire web tools
WebXact and Bobby are no longer available,
developers of web content who wish to make their content accessible may be scrambling for other methods for checking their pages.

Fear not.

Here’s a list of
25free web site accessibility checkers.
(Actually, that list should be titled 24, not 25, as the first offering listed is WebXact. To be fair to the author of that list, I kept the original number intact .)

The list contains a variety of tools that will aid any developer seeking to be one of the good guys on the web. If your office refers your school’s web developers to WebXact or Bobby, please share this overly abundant list as sufficient proof that accessible content needn’t cost their department any funding.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Library of Congress facillitates accessible communication for staff

To facilitate better communication between employees who are deaf and hard of hearing with their colleagues, the Library of Congress has just installed
New video relay technology,
Using videophones. Library officials claim this system to be superior to older TTY technologies.

According to the article,
“Using the new system, deaf or hard-of-hearing employees are either able to communicate directly with each other or transmit their message in ASL to an interpreter, who in turn relays the message in English to a hearing colleague via a standard phone line.” “

The new system, provided free of charge by Sorenson Communications, will benefit 17 of the library’s employees. Additionally, library officials hope that this model of private/public partnership that they’ve initiated with Sorenson will be emulated by other entities.

For additional information, you may want to also read the
Business Wire press release.

Disability rights advocate Bender speaks up for passage of ADA Restoration Act

There is an interesting article by Joyce Bender, titled
The waiting Game Must End for People with Disabilities,
which was just published in
The Cutting Edge News.

In this well-crafted opinion piece, Bender draws upon the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. to link the civil rights movement to the disability rights movement. Once that connection is established, she skillfully transitions to make the argument for people with disabilities to be active participants in seeing through passage of the ADA Restoration Act of 2007.

Her call to action reads:
“In his book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the Negro had been an object of sympathy and wore the scars of deep grievances, but the nation had come to count on him as a creature who could quietly endure, silently suffer, and patiently wait. He was well trained in service and, whatever the provocation, he neither pushed back or spoke back.” This sounds familiar to me. This is the attitude of many of us in the disability community. We in the disabilities community just sit back and wait. We have waited now for almost 20 years. “

She then strongly encourages the affected population to find their voice by getting registered to vote, as well as contacting their Representatives and Senators in Washington D.C., to promote passage of the ADA Restoration Act.

Joyce Bender, a widely recognized disability rights advocate, is the President and CEO of
Bender Consulting,
A technology consulting firm, specializing in creating competitive employment and career opportunities for people with disabilities.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Assistive technology continues to evolve, becoming more mainstream

Most often, the steps that assistive technology uses to make computers accessible to people with disabilities is to allow them an alternative method of inputting information into the computer. This is true for screen readers, which allow the operator to use keyboard commands to perform mouse executions; speech input, which allows hands-free computer operation; thought-actuated computer programs, which can execute computer functions by mere thought; head pointers that let people without arm functionality point to the screen to execute commands; and, the various alternative mice that are on the market, which use footpads and other methods to allow input and do not require hand or fingers to operate them.

I’ve recently written posts highlighting advances that demonstrate how
Assistive technology has become more mainstream,
and, more recently, how
Man and machine are integrating much more than ever before.

In that last post, I was struck by the words of the reporter who was chronicling those events on a morning news program. He said that the way technology often works is that it is developed to meet a medical need first, and is very expensive. Then, later it evolves into something more affordable when it becomes more mainstream and applications are developed for the general public.

Immediately, I thought of botox. It was used first here in the U.S. to relieve spasticity in people who have various forms of dystonia. I was actually a little floored when a friend who got botox treatments for her cerebral palsy first told me about the medication and that it was derived from the toxin in botulism cells. That was several years ago, prior to botox becoming legalized for cosmetic applications. Today, you can’t turn on any television celebrity gossip show that doesn’t discuss the latest star getting botox treatments as cosmetic surgery.

Then, I looked at the marvels of assistive technology, just as the reporter was intending. And, here today, I offer proof of the reporter’s assessment.

First, The BBC reports about how
headset controllers using thought and emotion actuation
are the coming trends for gamers. And, as the reporter predicted, the unit is refined from the older versions, which were assistive technology of a unique sort. It no longer requires electrode arrays with gel on the scalp. And the cost is projected to be only $399, not the tens of thousands of dollars previous versions have cost to provide alternative computer input.

Do I think the technology in the gamer’s headset is comparable to that of somebody who would use thought input to operate a computer? Not at all, at least not yet. We all know that technology evolves, and this is equally true for assistive technology. Give it time and the gamer’s unit in just a few years will outperform the current assistive technology devices of today by leaps and bounds. And, I predict this will be mutually beneficial, providing greater accessibility and lowering costs for all.

Additionally, good old Microsoft is looking to its next big thing, called Windows 7 (for now,) which will incorporate input via
speech and touch.

Here again, if Microsoft is putting something into its system, eventually we will all have it. If not from Microsoft, then it will be from other computer companies that will offer their version just to stay competitive.

And, while robots aren’t exactly mainstream yet, understanding how a robot learns and
applying that to the ultimate robotic hand
definitely has broad implications for the future of prosthetics and assistive technology.

Perhaps that reporter was correct.

Note: Thanks to the editors of
For the original information about the robotic hand.)

Arlington National Cemetery heightens accessibility for visitors

An interesting event is taking place at the National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

A Braille flag monument
Is being placed At the front of the historic, final resting place for so many of our national heroes.
The Braille flag says the words, “red, white, and blue,” and also has the pledge of allegiance written across the stripes.

Now, blind veterans and visitors alike can literally get a feel for the flag that strikes awe in so many others at Arlington.

Read the KWCH article linked above to learn how this inspiring project came about.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Technological advances are bringing man and machine much closer together

There seems to be a recent convergence of information about man and machines coming together.

I first read this interesting BBC article about Ray Kurzweil, the grandfather of optical character recognition as well as oft-cited inventor and futurist, predicting that
machines will match man by 2029.

In the article, Kurzweil predicts that machines will reach artificial intelligence on the same level as humans just over 20 years from now. He believes that humans will have tiny robots implanted into their brains to achieve higher levels of intelligence.

From the article:
“The engineer believes machines and humans will eventually merge through devices implanted in the body to boost intelligence and health.”
Kurzweil stated, "We're already a human machine civilisation; we use our technology to expand our physical and mental horizons and this will be a further extension of that."

That was interesting enough, but then this morning, I was watching one of the morning news programs and they had an expert discuss how the innovations that Kurzweil spoke of might come about. He cited three specific projects that are not new, but are definitely continuing, and showing great promise to fulfill Kurzweil’s predictions.

* The bionic eye project at Stanford University.
In this meeting of the minds,
Ophthalmologists and physicists teamed up to create artificial vision.
The work appears promising, using cameras to send visual images to the brain with clarity that was Sufficient enough so that patients have the potential to see with a visual acuity of 20/80.

* Matt Nagel, a man who is quadraplegic and had an electronic array implanted into his brain so that he could
execute motor functions by thought process alone.

* Duke researchers who had a
monkey move a robot 7,000 miles away,
purely by mental commands.

Then, to complete my convergence trifecta of news about man and machines, I found a news alert this morning telling how the
Duke project has a future application in war situations.

Bob Dylan sang so many years ago, “The times, they are a-changing.” With the advances scientists are making in technology, it appears that so are we.

Web security feature may be problematic for screen reader users

A web site administrator recently advised me about a security feature of web page design that poses a potential problem for blind computer users like myself, who use a screen reader to access the internet. The security feature lies in hidden links on a web page, designed to trap the malicious robots that are trolling the internet for content and email addresses to harvest. However, the problem is that the same traps that grab the robots, or bots, also look like clickable links to screen readers and could land the unknowing blind computer user in a virtual never-never land on a site that was previously a prized and valuable resource.

Theoretically, the way it works is that once the bot sees the link and clicks it, it is entered into a blocked database. From that time forward, that computer will only see blank pages whenever it returns to that web site.

And, this doesn’t interfere with sighted computer users, as the visual representation of the “bot trap” is almost unnoticeable on the screen, as they are hidden links and are only one pixel in size.

That’s all well and good for trapping the bots, but the problem arises for blind computer users who rely on the screen reading software, like JAWS or Window Eyes, to let them know which items on a page are links and which are not. So, while I’m going down a web page, and there is a link that JAWS identifies that sounds like it has some content I might be interested in, it might just as well be a trap. If I click that link out of curiosity, I could lose the ability to have access to any of the information on all the pages on that entire web site.

I consider myself pretty savvy on assistive technology in general and screen readers in particular, but this is something I have never heard about before. As a result, I’m posting about it here for anybody who might have some feedback.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Accessible Content: A magazine striving for just that

There is a magazine dedicated to IT professionals who work to make their web content accessible.

Accessible Content
Is a magazine whose title says exactly what it is about.
From the “About” page:
“Accessible Content Magazine is devoted entirely to accessibility issues. We deliver how-to articles, skill building exercises, product profiles and accessibility community news to the professionals who create and maintain accessible content.”

A subscription to the print edition is free. (After 60 days, the content is unlocked and made fully available online.) However, if you are unable to read the print copy, there is a method provided to allow you access to the current edition. Just subscribe and there will be an additional step provided for you at the end of that process.

Additional perks for subscribing are the electronic connections provided via the links and URLs listed in the magazine articles, code listings from the magazine, and electronic versions of each article. So, while you may be initially subscribing to the print copy of the magazine, that subscription brings with it plenty of password protected, supplemental online material available as well.

This appears to be just what the web development folks need. Share this post with your campus web development team. After all, your school can’t complain about the subscription fee…its free.

(Thanks to the
Access Technologists Higher Education Network,
Or ATHEN, blog for this useful lead. It was really good to see something new posted on the ATHEN blog. In the past, I’ve often found information that is personally useful there, as well as some other information which I’ve shared here on Access Ability.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Accessible World offers podcast on Microsoft Office 2007

If you’ve been holding off on upgrading to Microsoft Office 2007, because you were wondering how it would play with your assistive technology, then you may be interested in the
Overview of Microsoft Office 2007,
the most recent installment of Accessible World Tech Talk.

In this nearly 80 minute podcast, Karen McCall, an author, trainer, and consultant with Karlen Communications, discusses the features of the program and also offers insightful tips on setting up Outlook 2007 so that it functions compatibly with assistive technology.

Innovations of iPhone should lead to greater overall web accessibility

In June of last year, I wrote a post here about the
inaccessibility of Apple’s iPhone.

My biggest gripe still today about the product is that being that the iPhone uses a touchscreen, the trendy and coveted geek toy is inaccessible to anybody who has a disability and is unable to touch the screen. That includes people who are blind or have a motor impairment that limits the manual dexterity required to accomplish that task.

This leads me into an article I just came across by web development author Christopher Schmitt, wherein he states the case that
iPhone specific web development is misguided.

In this well proposed presentation, Schmitt states that there are implications for web surfing that the iPhone has forever change, and, as such, its competitors will certainly follow suit just to stay competitive. The primary point is the fact that
Web sites no longer need to design their sites specifically for a mobile device.

Schmitt argues that developers need not design web content which will only be maximized on the iPhone, but optimized for all. The crux of his presentation is centered around accessibility, not just as being the right thing to do as a good corporate citizen, but as a sound business model. Simple economics dictate that making a web site which is accessible to all makes it open to the widest audience possible. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Schmitt writes:
“Apple recently sold its first million iPhones. Yet, there are an estimated 37 million Americans with sensory and physical disability between the ages of 16 to 64.”

“If only ten percent of these 37 million people with disabilities surf the Web on an assistive technology, their numbers are 300% greater than every iPhone sold.”

However, I think the most sensible and emphatic plea for making accessibility a priority for web developers can be discerned from Schmitt’s conclusion:
“If your Web site is geared to run on assistive technologies like screen readers, hand wands , eye tracking, voice recognition, or braille displays, the odds are that you’ve opened your site up to more of an audience than the iPhone crowd.”

Again, I sincerely believe that makes perfect sense, both business-wise and doing the right thing-wise.

In light of the argument Schmitt makes, perhaps I need to not be too hard on the iPhone. While the iPhone may still be inaccessible, there are prospects that this may one day evolve with insightful use of third party applications. And, the inaccessibility of the iPhone itself may be offset by the opening of doors for greater web accessibility as a whole due to the innovation that the device has brought to the mobile phone market.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

KeyXL offers online database of keyboard shortcuts

I’ve just discovered a most useful web site for people who use the keyboard instead of the computer mouse to perform their operations. This description applies to people like myself, who use a screen reader to access the computer, but also applies to others, such as administrative assistants who prefer to get their work done without switching back and forth between their mouse and the keyboard.

Is a fully searchable, online keyboard shortcut database.

The site lets you search for many different programs, even across operating systems, to find the keyboard shortcuts to carry out the commands normally done with the mouse. They don’t have every program in the database, but they do have hundreds and they’re all accessible. And, from their own searches, they have not found a larger database of keyboard shortcuts on the web.

(Thanks to Michael McCarty at the
Fred’s Head Companion
For tipping me off to this useful web site.)

NFB suit against Target will have ripples regarding web accessibility

There is an interesting article titled
Slow motion wake-up call for web accessibility,
Which reflects upon and highlights some of the aspects of the lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind against Target stores. The article is published in
Network World, Inc.
an online publication for Information Technology (IT) professionals, and is written by Scott Bradner, the Technology Security Officer at Harvard University.

In the article, the author compares what it means to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, comparing Section 508 against the W3C standards.

Perhaps, most interesting, is his prognostication for the result of that lawsuit:
“The Target case is proceeding slowly, but still should be seen as a wake-up call for Web site operators. The handwriting is on the wall and it seems there is no small chance that the courts will rule for the NFB and even if they do not, Congress might not be far behind in fixing any lack. Of course, there is no requirement to wait until the courts rule; it is just fine to get a start now — in fact, it just might be the right thing to do. “

Did you notice that last sentence? A suggestion for doing the right thing. Boy, it is great to see somebody in the IT field that thinks about doing the right thing.

Now, wouldn't it be great if we could cause Mr. Bradner's attitude to be contagious among his peers in regards to web accessibility.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Accessibility consulting firm shares insight from Techshare India

While we are physically separated by vast amounts of land and water, there is something to be said when a company in India shares visions of how things should be regarding accessibility here in the United States.

BarrierBreak Technologies
Is an accessibility testing firm, focusing on Section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). They provide accessibility testing, training, and consulting services. They also offer other services relating to accessibility.

Naturally, when they say they provide anything related to Section 508, the company is most likely targeting web sites of American companies, as that is a law specific to our country. However, WCAG is more of a global standard, and in my readings, I find that many businesses not based in the U.S., nonetheless provide their web site in accordance to Section 508 standards, so it has become a standard of its own, even outside our boundaries.

From the initial outset, I found the company web site very easy to navigate with JAWS; Then again, I should have, if they practice what they advertise.

I’m not here to necessarily promote the business, but I’m just glad to see that businesses such as this exist. I know there are others, even domestic, which would keep corporate dollars within our own economy. (I only acknowledge this for anybody who is concerned that I’m promoting outsourcing jobs and funding.)

However, what drew me to the site was a post on their
corporate blog.
In particular, it was a post I read about the
Experience Zone at Techshare India
that I read, which made for some good insight about services and assistive technology the company offers. What really struck me was the blog poster’s candor about her experience interacting with people who had a wide range of disabilities, apparently interacting with several different disabilities at the same time.

Additionally, I was glad to see the variety of assistive technology products that were displayed. Here’s a paragraph from her post about them:
“People were amazed to see assistive technologies such as a Portable screen magnifier from HIMS, trackball, Color identifier from Caretec, Screen readers such as JAWS, Safa, Supernova (Hindi screen reader), simulator simulating different types of visual disabilities etc. There were other products such as a device that would identify the battery life for both visually impaired and the deaf and dumb people, tactile sheets that visually impaired users could use to learn computers, apart from braille slates, pamphlets to learn sign language etc.”

It is refreshing to see people both here and abroad are working towards accessibility. It may not always seem like people with disabilities are making progress, but when I read about conferences such as Techshare India, I’m reminded that we are indeed moving forward.

Pardon the post, but CJ's Bus is worth your attention

Access Ability is going to take a slight diversion of focus for this post. Its not related to higher education, nor is it tied to disability services. However, this is about
CJ’s bus: A safe haven for children in disaster.
This non-profit corporation is an inspiring and worthwhile project that is providing a much needed service during times of family crisis.

What CJ’s Bus provides is a portable playground for parents in disaster-stricken areas, such as after a tornado, where the parents can leave their children for a safe play time while they meet with the myriad of people needed to get up and running. While parents must meet with people such as Red Cross staff and insurance reps, these folks are not anybody the kids really need to sit and visit with. That’s where CJ’s Bus comes in. Being it is mobile, it can go from town to town, wherever it is needed to provide a safe respite for all.

You might be asking, “Who is CJ?” The namesake for this project is 2-year-old C.J. Martin, who died in the November 6, 2005 tornado that struck Newburgh, Indiana. After CJ’s death, his mother Katheryn took the initiative to reach out to families in Otwell, Indiana when a 2006 tornado struck their community. What she did there was the beginning of her vision for CJ’s Bus. She loaded coloring books, crayons, and juice boxes in her car, then drove to Otwell with a friend, and offered parents who had been impacted by the tornado the opportunity to grab a break by watching their children for a while. That allowed the parents to do whatever they needed to get their households back on the road to recovery.

From the web site’s
The Story
“CJ's Bus is a proposal to provide a safe, mobile childcare facility loaded with games and toys for children in disaster. CJ's Bus will enable parents to take the time to deal with paperwork as well as the opportunity to 'just breathe'. CJ's Bus will allow children to play and have fun with other children who have suffered the same devastating events as one another. I envision CJ's Bus as a way to begin the battle of healing for families that are put in unpreventable circumstances.”

Forgive the diversion, but when something this worthwhile and meaningful comes across my desk, I feel compelled to share it here. Please do check out the web site and learn more about the sincere efforts being put forth by this group. There is a list of items they need assistance with, so if you’re able to, lend a hand.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging…

Blog examines presidential candidates' stance on disability rights

In light of the current race for U.S. President that is underway, I can truly appreciate the effort
Wilbrod the Gnome
Has Put into his recent blog post,
Disability Rights and the Presidental Candidate: An Analysis.

In that post, Wilbrod examines available material from four presidential contenders, three of whom are still in the hunt, as they relate to disability rights. He has spent a good bit of time gathering and sharing the positions Democratic Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican Senator John McCain have taken, as well as that of former candidate Mitt Romney, who suspended his campaign last week.

What makes Wilbrod’s post worth considering, is that he is not merely quoting the candidates, but links to the referenced information. It is a very thorough, but obviusly time-consuming effort on his part. (Please forgive any typos, as I believe the depth of content more than makes up for those.)

One point of examination some may want to examine is near the end of the post and looks at how each candidate has approached the No Child Left Behind Act.

Friday, February 08, 2008

HealthSims web site offers educational resource for Type I diabetes

Through a family member’s recent diagnosis with Type I diabetes, our entire family has had to come to understand a lot more about the disease. This, of course, has included gathering resources to help learn the information that we needed.

One of those resources is the
Web site. HealthSims is focused on education about Type I diabetes at present, but will include material about Type II later this year.

The site is a rich informational resource that includes a forum and an in-depth educational course about Type I diabetes. Dana Blankenship, whose son has Type I diabetes, is the founder of the site.

The learning material is targeted towards those who are newly diagnosed, as well as their family members, to help them learn to manage the diabetes. Additionally, it is useful for any professionals who work with diabetics, or those in fields needing continuing education. The training material is non-sequential, thus allowing the user to go to a particular area of interest or concern first, rather than having to follow a rigid design structure.

The course is thorough, running approximately 12-16 hours. The following course description is from the web site:
“The course includes the basic facts about type 1 diabetes and the common treatment strategies. You will also find lessons learned and practical tips on a wide variety of topics from over 300 people from across North America that have first hand experience managing this disease. In this exciting training course, you will hear people tell their own stories and share their personal lessons learned. You will also get the opportunity to test your own knowledge of type 1 diabetes in the practice activities embedded in the training topics as well as in the Practice Activities Topic which includes 100 questions to test your knowledge of content taught throughout the course. You can complete the training topics in any order you wish.”

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Woman seeks to become first blind acupuncturist in Texas

In Austin, Texas, Juliana Cumbo is being presented an interesting case as she attempts to get licensed to practice acupuncture. This will be her second time to attempt licensure after failing to receive it in October. She currently practices as a graduate intern, has earned a Masters degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, and has passed the national board exams.

What’s the problem, you ask?

Cumbo is blind and the licensure committee of the state board of acupuncture examiners doesn’t think she should be able to practice. In October, the state licensing board cited protecting the public as one of the reasons they had denied her request.

That goes against the beliefs of the president of the academy where Cumbo studied, as well as several of her teachers. Cumbo has modified her technique so that she, “is now better at finding acupuncture points than many students who can see,” according to the president.

If successful and she is approved, Cumbo will be the first blind acupuncturist in Texas. The Lone Star State isn’t alone in not having any blind acupuncturists, though. According to the article in the
Austin American Statesman,
Cumbo’s attorney only found three others in the United States.

While the committee cites protecting the public as their intention, they will be going against established practice in Japan, where more than 30% of the acupuncturists are blind.

The latest update about Cumbo is that the committee met last Friday and showed some insight. Instead of refusing Cumbo’s request outright, they voted to have
two neutral observers evaluate her skills
while she examines two patients, one male and one female. That evaluation will be done within six months and the observers, a physician and an acupuncturist, will report back to the committee.

Go get ‘em, Juliana.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

PDF Conference features session on accessibility and Section 508

It is very refreshing to see a big tech conference list accessibility as one of the featured presentations.

In a press release announcing the
2008 Adobe Acrobat and PDF Conference,
one of the listed sessions is titled “Accessible PDF: Tagging and Section 508.”

This is the sixth annual conference for the group, which claims to be the largest gathering of PDF professionals. It is April 30 – May 1 in Orlando, Florida.

Michael Eisner, the former CEO of the Walt Disney Company, is set as the opening speaker. Given that, I would say that this has to be a major tech conference. After all, when you’ve got a featured speaker like that, this ain’t no Mickey Mouse conference.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

SmartNav 4 is hands-free alternative computer mouse

I notice regular traffic to this blog searching for alternative techniques to operate the computer mouse. This prompted me to do some research into these and I located the home page for
A hands-free, ergonomically designed alternative mouse.

From the web site:
“SmartNav 4 allows complete computer control for users interested in ergonomic and assistive technology devices. By controlling the cursor with subtle head movements, a whole new level of independence is realized.”

The device is marketed towards computer users who are unable to use a conventional mouse due to spinal cord injury, quadraplegia, Muscular Dystrophy, or ALS, but is also targeting users with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This assistive technology allows the user to move the cursor across the entire computer screen using head motions that are less than one-fourth of an inch. It includes a virtual keyboard that allows the user to type with the head motions as well. Additionally, it also lets users plug in a clickswitch or or footswitch to alternatively enable the cursor.

And, to answer the big question, the web site has the latest version listed for $499.

I am not endorsing this product, as I've not used it. However, I am writing about it here on Access Ability as a resource for those readers who are seeking this type of assistive technology. However, if somebody who uses this device would like to leave a comment about how it operates, I'd love to hear about your experience.

Blog author approaches self advocacy in personal manner

I’m always one to speak up for self advocacy and take this matter very seriously. However, I had a good chuckle at the steps the author of the
Stone Deaf Pilots blog
Recently Took to ensure accessibility at her gym.

To put it in a nutshell, the gym has several television sets in the cardio room. Sometimes, one of the sets had closed captioning enabled, but at other times, none did. When she raised the matter to the staff, she was met with stonewall responses and a perceived indifference to her needs. Read the post linked above to see how she raised awareness to the need for closed captioning to be enabled and see if you don’t find yourself cheering on her advocacy efforts.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Diabetic service dogs: a niche worth filling

Earlier this afternoon, I received an email with a news article about some research being conducted at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The university researchers are gathering scientific data to see whether dogs can be used to detect dangerous blood sugar levels in diabetics. The article noted that there were only anecdotal reports reporting that dogs can detect this.

Spurred by this idea, which had never previously occurred to me, I did a little web research to investigate.

Did you know that there are already organizations placing dogs with Type I diabetics to detect hypoglycemia.?

The first one I found was
Dogs for Diabetics,
A California non-profit that places diabetic service dogs with people who have only Type I diabetes. The organization, originally called The Armstrong Project, has been in existence for almost seven years. Armstrong was the name of the first dog the service trained for this specialized task. Armstrong was obtained from

Guide Dogs for the Blind

(GDB), a long-established guide dog school in San Rafael, California. Today, most of their dogs are primarily obtained from GDB, with a couple of other agencies contributing as well.

From their web site, here’s what Dogs for Diabetics offers:
• Training and certifying dogs for hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) medical alert.
• Studying and developing training protocols for the Dogs4Diabetics program.
• Training diabetic youth and adults for the proper use and care of our dogs.
• Qualifying diabetic youth and adults for placement and service of our dogs.
• Placement follow-up services.
• Educating the businesses, organizations, and the public to the uses and rights of certified Dogs for Diabetics medical alert dogs.

Additionally, I also found
Heaven Scent Paws,
another agency specifically offering service dogs for diabetics.

If you want to understand what motivates somebody to start a service like this, check out
The story behind Heaven Scent Paws.
It is a parent’s tale of true passion, motivated by fear and love, looking for direction and answers in a world where very few existed.

Finally, there is this story of one teacher’s pairing with her diabetic assistance dog, obtained through the
Great Plains Assistance Dog Foundation,
Located in Jud, North Dakota.

The number of these particular service dogs across the U.S. is low in comparison to other types of trained service dogs, according to the executive director of the Great Plains Assistance Dog Foundation in that article. However , he predicts that number will rise as word of this invaluable service gets around.

I feel certain that it will.

Business merger could mean accessibility gains

If you didn’t hear the news last week,
Microsoft is looking to buy Yahoo.
This is really big news in both the business and technology worlds. Microsoft’s CEO believes acquiring the search engine Yahoo would give his company leverage in the online advertising market where Google rules supreme.

So, why am I writing about this here on Access Ability?

The answer is accessibility. Microsoft has worked to integrate accessibility into its products, even allowing engineers from the major assistive technology companies to have advance access to their code when they are working on new operating systems. They do this so that the AT software and hardware can be ready to run upon the new operating system’s release. One can only be optimistic and hope that if Microsoft were to buy Yahoo, then this attention to accessibility would carryover to the new property as well.

I’ve griped here before about Yahoo’s CAPTCHA spam prevention and new mail program, explaining how these were both inaccessible, and that the company seemed to be nonchalant about the accessibility needs of blind computer users. Maybe, just maybe that would change if Microsoft were to buy Yahoo.

This won’t happen overnight, though. There are several issues that the Federal Trade Commission will need to closely examine and scrutinize before such a transaction is allowed to progress. However, the time it takes for all to take place will be well worth it if Microsoft can bring about accessible change at the search engine.