Friday, January 30, 2009

Stem cell treatment reverses MS in study group

There is some very encouraging news in the stem cell newsfront.

In a recent study at Northwestern University in Chicago, patients with multiple sclerosis received treatement with their own stem cells, and
Reversed their disability.

This procedure did not use the controversial, embryonic stem cells, but instead gathered stem cells from the very patient they were later used on.

All 21 patients in the study had the “relapsing-remitting” form of the disease that makes their symptoms alternately flare up and recede. Three years after being treated, on average, 17 of the patients had improved on tests of their symptoms, 16 had experienced no relapse and none had deteriorated, the study found.

“This is the first study to actually show reversal of disability,” said Richard Burt, an associate professor in the division of immunotherapy at Northwestern, and the lead author of the study published Thursday in the British journal, the Lancet Neurology. “Some people had complete disappearance of all symptoms.”

This is great news, indeed. Let’s hope this success sparks further research and innovation.

On paydays and light bulbs

I’ve been working with a group of kids now for a period of roughly two months. Most of what I’ve been doing is teaching them how to use the JAWS screen reader, although I know there are many other fine points I’m overlooking if I say that’s all I’ve been doing with them. I have also demonstrated for each of them what the Victor Reader Stream is, and how this versatile media player can assist them in day-to-day activities. I’ve also introduced them to DVS movies and computer games for the blind, mostly those from Jim Kitchens’
Web Site.

There is more to come and I'm learning as well as the kids are. I am learning the keystroke commands for Serotek's
System Access Mobile
screen reader so that I can teach them how to use this as well. As the students turn in their application forms, they are getting their own jump drive versions of the System Access Mobile screen reader as part of Serotek's Keys for K-12 program.

The experience of teaching and empowering these young minds is incredible. I don’t think the students realize just how much they give back to me, but they pay me in denominations beyond words or anything of monetary value. It is so beautiful when the lesson we’ve been working on comes together for the student and that light bulb clicks for them. It just warms my heart each time this happens and I’ve been getting warm-hearted a lot lately. Its like the assistive technology professional I work with tells me, Today was payday and you just got paid.”

I was working with one of my elementary school boys yesterday on a lesson involving editing a document. He was learning where to place the curser to insert a letter in a word. Instead of putting it on the letter in front of which he wanted to insert the text, he would put the cursor on the letter he wanted the text to follow. Needless to say, he was getting a little frustrated. He was undaunted though, and kept trudging through the lesson, putting the pieces into place and finally finished the document just like it needed to be. It was beautiful to see that whole process happen.

While he was doing this, I was sitting back, coaching him, just grinning ear-to-ear as I witnessed learning in action. I told him that he was learning what to do as well as what not to do and attempted to illustrate with the story of Thomas Edison. I asked him if he knew who Edison was and he replied, Isn’t he the man who invented electricity, or was that Ben Franklin?” Then he went back to editing his document.

I grinned and then shared the story about how many times Edison had to work at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked Edison how it felt to fail so many different times, his reply to the reporter was, “ I didn’t fail those times. I just learned that many ways that the bulb didn’t work, which led me to figure out how to make it the right way.” (I wasn’t sure of the exact quote, but was paraphrasing in an attempt to illustrate the learning aspect for my student.)

Then, this boy told me, “Yeah, but he was just inventing the light bulb. He wasn’t trying to write a document like I am.”

Ka-ching! I just got paid again.

If you can’t tell, I love this job.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blind Bargains 2009 Access Awards voting underway-- go vote

For those who don’t know about
Blind Bargains,
The regularly updated and very useful web site list daily deals of interest to those of us who are blind and into technology. I receive their daily email update, but they also offer an RSS feed to keep readers updated of the latest deals.

Besides just listing great deals on tech-related issues, last year the Blind Bargains folks began awarding the Access Awards. They kicked it off by first asking for reader input on a variety of categories regarding blind technology and access. The categories included best software, hardware, web site, blog, and others.

Well, that was last year and the sophomore nomination process is over. It is now time for the voting round in the second annual Blind BargainsAccess Awards.

I am very humbled and proud to find Access Ability nominated for best blindness-related blog. I would sincerely appreciate it if you would go to the
Voting Round page
And cast your vote for Access Ability as the best blog.

The other nominated blogs are almost all names which regular readers have seen referenced as sources of information here on Access Ability. They are blogs that I read regularly and whose authors I regard with utmost esteem. So, it is truly an honor to be grouped with these blogs which are very well respected within the blind community. I am proud to be mentioned worthy of hanging with these guys:

Blind Access Journal,

Fred’s Head Companion,

Mobile Space,

The Ranger Station.

And, aside from just voting for the best blog, please take the time to cast your vote for the other categories as well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Guided by Love-- A Seeing Eye dog owner recounts her first

Everybody who knows me knows that I travel with a Seeing Eye dog. Hence, I have a good understanding and great compassion for these wonderful animals, as well as the legal aspects that ensure our access in the United States.

With that in mind, I want to share an article with you. In
Guided by love: A reporter recalls life with Bates, a Seeing Eye dog,
Liz Campbell recalls her first dog from The Seeing Eye. She describes in heartfelt detail, what the process was like for her to initially decide to get a guide dog, her years with her golden retriever Bates, and transitioning through the decision making process involved to get her new dog.

I tried to keep a normal routine that day — doing errands before work and walking to a restaurant for lunch. But my day was filled with tears. It was especially hard when friends came to my desk to tell Bates goodbye.

It was also, though, a day full of anticipation. I was getting a new dog soon. In fact, the next day, I was leaving for the Seeing Eye training facility, in Morristown, N.J.

I thought about a new dog and what he might be like. Could I trust him to guide me safely, as did Bates? Could I ever love him as much as I love Bates?

Liz is a government affairs reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I first heard of her when she made a presentation at the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind several years ago. I listened as she gave a recount of what life was like for a journalism student who was blind attending Baylor University back in the days before word processors. I clearly recall the incident where she described the time when she turned in a lengthy article that numbered several typed pages, right at deadline,, only to be told that all the pages were blank. What had happened was that her typewriter’s ink ribbon had run out and, being blind, she didn’t notice that important detail.

I also met Liz a couple of years ago at the
Come Walk in Our Shoes
event, which I reported on here on Access Ability. Liz was there demonstrating the original KNFB Reader.

On apersonal note, I just recently found out that Liz was in class with my friend
Wayne Merritt,
When she was in Morristown training with her second Seeing Eye dog.

Anybody who has experienced the wonders and emotions involved in the process of getting a guide dog can certainly appreciate the tale, or should that be “tail,” of Bates. Liz’s professional talents for reporting shine through in good form as she candidly shares the feelings, thoughts, and even doubts that come to mind when pondering this process. Go back and click the link to read her entire article.

Or, if you prefer, there is also the
full version of the article,
with accompanying video and audio files that supplement her written words.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Google engineer Raman addressing blind accessibility on touch screen phones

I’ve previously railed here about the inaccessibility of the iPhone, due to the whizbang Apple product’s touch screen not having any features that make the much-ballyhooed gadget usable by blind folks. Maybe my approach to touch screen phones was all wrong. Instead of knocking the innovation, I should’ve embraced it.

At least, that’s what
T. V. Raman has done.

From the New York Times article linked above:

Some of Mr. Raman’s innovations may help make electronic gadgets and Web services more user-friendly for everyone. Instead of asking how something should work if a person cannot see, he says he prefers to ask, “How should something work when the user is not looking at the screen?”

With no buttons to guide the fingers on its glassy surface, the touch-screen cellphone may seem a particularly daunting challenge. But Mr. Raman said that with the right tweaks, touch-screen phones — many of which already come equipped with GPS technology and a compass — could help blind people navigate the world.

So then, the question comes to mind, if he can’t see the touch screen, then how does he know where to correctly touch it to make a call?

Since he cannot precisely hit a button on a touch screen, Mr. Raman created a dialer that works based on relative positions. It interprets any place where he first touches the screen as a 5, the center of a regular telephone dial pad. To dial any other number, he simply slides his finger in its direction — up and to the left for 1, down and to the right for 9, and so on. If he makes a mistake, he can erase a digit simply by shaking the phone, which can detect motion.

He and Mr. Chen are testing several other input methods. None of these technologies have been rolled out, but Mr. Raman, who is already using the G1 as his primary cellphone, hopes to make them freely available soon.

(Few screen readers are available for smartphones today, and they can often cost as much as a phone itself.)

This is truly the insight that needs to be applied to touch screen phones, and should have applications that can be carried over to other touch screen devices that are ubiquitous and becoming more and more commonplace around households and businesses everyday.

Those in the blind technology circles might know who T. V. Raman is, but many don’t. For those of you who don’t, let me shed a bit of light. Mr. Raman is a computer scientist and engineer at
He is also blind due to glaucoma and And is behind several aspects of accessibility at the online search and advertising behemoth. He has a history of creating accessibility in existing products, including pdf documents for Adobe Acrobat.

I’ve read a good bit about Mr. Raman over the past few years, but this is, by far, the most interesting news to me. The reason why is the ondslaught of touch screens coming down the pike in the future of our everyday lives. If they can innovate and make this aspect of daily living more accessible, which I see becoming more and more integrated into our lives, then I’m all for it.