A word with the accessible Dennis Lembree on Accessible Twitter

Sometimes, you just have to retool and start fresh. That’s what Dennis Lembree did when he decided that Twitter needed a good tweaking. Realizing that many social networking sites all but shut out visually impaired users, Dennis set his sights on making Twitter a better experience for everyone.

Enter Accessible Twitter. It achieves what Twitter should have achieved but didn’t. Simply put, Accessible Twitter offers a usable alternative to the Twitter site that takes into consideration the specific needs of people with vision loss.

I was curious as to what motivated Dennis to take on this project, so I asked him.

“My motivation is my belief that the web is for everyone, and web sites should be built that way. It’s so frustrating that they are not. So I like to help people access the information and services they want. Plus, it was an exciting and challenging project for me personally.”

As a devout non-programmer, I wondered if Accessible Twitter was years in development. Said Lembree, “I’ve been working on AT for over a year now as a personal project (outside of my day job). So the work is sporadic, depending on my availability and changes in the Twitter service I may need to incorporate.”

Despite my shameless begging of Lembree to overhaul other social networking sites, most of which are not fully accessible, it is apparently not on the menu. “Unfortunately, I have no current plans to overhaul another site.”

Drat.

If you know someone who wants to jump into social networking but who may be intimidated due to the inability to interpret what is happening on the screen when presented with the Twitter timeline, or who could benefit from audio cues and a simpler, more streamlined, more consistent presentation of on-screen information, try Accessible Twitter. I am a frequent user and am happy to evangelize for this excellent accessible Twitter application. You can find Dennis at Web Overhauls:

http://weboverhauls.com/

Finally, tweet with wild abandon at Accessible Twitter:

http://accessibletwitter.com/

See you there. I’m @Accessible_Info.

LL

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Accessible Twitter enters beta status

Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 23, 2010

MEDIA CONTACT
Web Overhauls
weboverhauls
www.weboverhauls.com

Social Media Web App "Accessible Twitter" Enters Beta Status

AccessibleTwitter.com expands features and empowers disabled users to access Twitter, the popular social micro-blogging web service.

Cupertino, CA (February 23, 2010) Accessible Twitter, a web application that empowers disabled users to access Twitter, has updated its status from Alpha to Beta. Accessible Twitter is a web application that enables users with disabilities and limited technology to use the popular social micro-blogging web service Twitter. Accessible Twitter beta will include new features like URL-shortening, trends, saved searches, popular links, and partial support for lists.

Disabled users typically have significant problems accessing many web sites and web services, including Twitter. Accessible Twitter ensures that all links are keyboard accessible, provides simple, consistent layout and navigation, and structures each page with helpful headings. Additional audio cues indicate when Twitter’s 140-character limit is almost reached when writing a tweet. Accessible Twitter works with or without JavaScript and is compatible with all major Internet browsers. Accessible Twitter is used by those with and without disabilities.

Mr. Dennis E. Lembree, owner of the web development company WebOverhauls.com and creator of Accessible Twitter, is dedicated to expanding the accessibility of the web.

"I really enjoy social web apps like Twitter, and unfortunately, the majority of web sites and web applications are still not fully accessible to everyone. Overall, I think theres a misconception that a ‘Web 2.0’ site cant be cool or fun and be accessible at the same time; its actually quite possible."
– Dennis Lembree of WebOverhauls

Accessible Twitter is already garnering international praise from across the web:

"Accessible Twitter offers an important alternative to web-based Twitter – it is accessible not just by people with various disabilities, but is more useful to everyone needing to access Twitter through keyboard-only. The presentation of tweets is clearer, not as cluttered. And links to all options are easy to find. Great stuff!"
– Nicolas Steenhout of Accessibility NZ

"Accessible Twitter not only addresses the accessibility flaws of the original site, but also introduces usability features that make ‘tweeting’ easier for all web-based users."
– Matt Smith of Smiffytech

"Accessible Twitter is a thoroughly useful tool, well designed and perfectly suited for people who have vision loss. It is an indispensable part of my every day, enabling me to connect with potential clients on the same playing field as my non-disabled counterparts."
– Laura Legendary of Legendary Insights (a visually impaired daily user of Accessible Twitter)

Accessible Twitter has been mentioned in numerous articles and books including The Twitter Book by O’Reilly Media. Accessible Twitter was the recipient of 2009 Access IT @web2.0 Award.

For more about Accessible Twitter, visit: http://www.accessibletwitter.com.

#####

About Web Overhauls

Web Overhauls is a web development company specializing in web standards, usability, and accessibility. Web Overhauls develops web sites for small to medium-sized businesses with a focus on improving existing web sites for better usability and accessibility. The company is a member of GAWDS and Refresh Detroit. Mr. Dennis E. Lembree, the President of Web Overhauls, is an established expert in the field, creator AccessibleTwitter.com and author of Web Axe, a podcast and blog about web accessibility.

For more information, visit http://www.weboverhauls.com or email weboverhauls [AT] gmail DOT com.

February is low vision awareness month

Here’s another awareness observance for you to add to your already packed cause calendar. February is low vision awareness month, also AMD awareness month. The letters AMD stand for age-related macular degeneration, sometimes also shortened as ARMD.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of age-related blindness in the United States. There are variations of the disease, referred to as either “wet” or “dry” macular degeneration, depending upon the symptoms, severity and rapidity of onset that characterizes each type. The person most likely to experience AMD is a person over the age of 65. Generally, macular degeneration is considered to be a complication of aging, although ugh the direct cause is unknown. Vision loss is usually characterized by a blurring or obscuring of the central vision, due to a breakdown of the retinal cells in the macula, or center-most portion of the retina. Over time, a person can experience profound vision loss, preventing them from reading, identifying objects or faces and forcing them to give up the car keys.

The term “low vision” usually refers to the range of visual perception that can be measured between the point at which a person is diagnosed as legally blind, and totally blind. If a person is correctable to better than 20/200 with glasses or contact lenses, they are generally not said to have low vision. Often individuals with low vision use other types of devices to enhance their visual acuity, including binocular or monocular type devices, CCTV magnifiers, text-to-speech and other technologies. Once a person reaches this level of vision loss, their regular eye doctor will likely refer a patient to a low vision specialist to determine the best devices available to maximize remaining vision.

What can you do to help someone with low vision? I’ve written a tips booklet that may help. You’ll find it at Accessible Insights, on the library page:

http://accessibleinsights.info/library.html/

“81 Bits of Insight into Coping with Vision Loss” is an information-packed little booklet for families and caregivers alike who need to know the best ways to interact, communicate and cope with a friend or loved one struggling with vision loss. You’ll discover some practical ways to organize, accommodate and assist while always showing respect and preserving a person’s dignity.

For more great information on vision loss, including articles and products for greater independent living, go to:

Eloquent Insights http://www.eloquentinsights.com

Accessible Insights http://www.accessibleinsights.info

Need someone to help navigate? You can write me directly at accessible.info (AT) accessibleinsights (DOT) info.

Or, just go to any of the Legendary Insights web pages and click contact.

Living with low vision does not mean living a lesser life. Educate yourself and you will be amazed at the innumerable products and services that can open up the entire world to you, as well as enable you to accomplish tasks you never dreamed possible. Don’t just be aware…achieve.

LL

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A few questions about the airport full body scanners

As a regular air traveler, both before and after September 11, 2001, one aspect of air travel I particularly appreciated about the post 9/11 security measures that so drastically changed the boarding process was that it seemed to completely eliminate the pervasive petty airport crime. Travelers had to guard against the pickpockets and bag boosters and assorted purse pilferers that seemed to lurk at every turn in airports. I was relieved after the tightened security rendered that sort of crime almost nonexistent. As a result, I felt more secure in an airport on many levels.

As the various permutations of airport security were introduced, implemented and streamlined, the patience and resiliency of travelers seemed to be continually tested. Yet most Americans bore the burden admirably, generally agreeing that any additional layers of protection against catastrophe were preferable over the alternative. We have all suffered some indignity at the hands of an airport employee while passing through security, and with each alteration in the level of vigilance required of the security personnel, most of us have good-naturedly tolerated this indignity taking comfort in the knowledge that we are all in it together.

The latest tool proposed for airline security, the full body scanner that can see through clothing, was met early on with an attitude of reserve, a willingness on the part of most Americans to give the system the benefit of the doubt. I was among that group, withholding judgment until I saw for myself how the system worked. After seeing the body scanner in action on the nightly news, a number of questions came to mind as to what, if anything, this latest measure will accomplish.

The demonstration presented on the news was preceded by a warning: “We realize this is a family hour, and we don’t want to be too graphic here, but we want to show you what the scanners will actually see, ” began the news anchor, ominously. I immediately became concerned. If the scanner was going to reveal an image that was so graphic as to necessitate a “for mature audiences only” warning, I knew we may be in for a bumpy ride.

“As you can see,” said the anchor, pausing meaningfully, as the subject passed through the scanner, “Our subject is obviously male.” He continued, “you can see everything. You can see his genitalia, his hair, his skin.” I was floored. Horrified, too. I wondered if they would have dared show a female model. I doubted it. I doubted the image would have made it past the network censors. Based on that unsettling thought, I knew my air travel days might be coming to an end.

there are so many unanswered questions, all of which went through my mind in a rush. My first thought was, what about children? Will children be subjected to this? The news anchor pointed out that the security agent who would actually be viewing the image would be in a separate room, and we would not know if that person was male or female. There was mention of a separate viewer for each gender, but that seems unlikely. How would we know who was really “behind the glass”? What about pedophiles? A parody of a classified ad sprung to mind:

Job title: TSA airport security
Description: Like to watch? Individuals needed for monitoring new full body scanners. Ideal candidates are voyeurs and pedophiles.

the reporter went on to say that no video would be captured or stored. I find that very difficult to believe. How long will it be before video of nude travelers appears on You Tube? Will the wealthy and privileged be permitted to opt-out? Will celebrities be exempted? Senators? Yes, faces will be blurred, but for how long? Will we be informed when video is captured and stored or faces no longer obscured?

What about people who have pacemakers, colostomy bags, prosthetic limbs? Will we be required to unwrap bandages, remove medical devices such as insulin pumps, hearing aids and gauze packs?

What about women who are pregnant? Could the scanning technology harm the fetus?

Proponents of the system ask, “Well, would you prefer the alternative?” The implication being, of course, would you rather die on a plane at the hands of terrorists? For some people, the answer to that question just might be yes. There are some who would rather die than parade in front of a stranger essentially naked. What about husbands who do not want their wives to be ogled by a stranger? Or, his teen-age daughters? What about persons who refuse on the basis of religious grounds?

For every preventative measure we have dreamed up, the terrorists who would do us harm have discovered an alternative. One might make the argument that history’s most persecuted group, the Israelis, seem to have this process down to a science. Without subjecting their people to humiliation and indignity (beyond the basic indignity that they may be history’s most persecuted group), they have managed to maintain a level of security that is enviable.

Finally, there’s this: What are we going to do after the first time a scanner fails? Or, the human monitor fails? Then what? there are no full body scanners at the airport entrance. What if the evil doers stop just short of security and decide instead to commit their crime in the ticket area?

This surely isn’t an original thought, but it occurs to me that if we follow these incremental safety procedures out to their logical end, we will soon be boarding planes utterly naked, or be required to swap our street clothes for some sort of uniform, like a hospital gown or disposable overalls. Or, will we be required to have an on-site medical examination? We could combine a dermatological examination, a “mole patrol” with the security screening. Why not? With our busy lives this seems to be a great way to multi task.

There has to be a better way.

LL

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Oratio for BlackBerry now available!

Another release by Code Factory. Wow…these folks have been busy. Read on if you’re a BlackBerry user.

Oratio for BlackBerry ® is now available
Longueuil, QC, Canada and Barcelona, Spain, February 1st, 2010 HumanWare and Code Factory are pleased to announce that Oratio for BlackBerry(R) smartphones is now available for purchase. Formally known as Orator for BlackBerry smartphones, Oratio is the first screen reader software solution that enables visually impaired users to access and operate BlackBerry smartphones using state of the art Text-To-Speech technology to convert the visual information displayed on the BlackBerry smartphone screen into a intuitive speech output. This enables its users to use BlackBerry smartphones to increase their independence and productivity in todays competitive world.

The name was changed from Orator to Oratio to avoid any confusion with an existing product called Orator being manufactured by a telecommunications company in the USA. Although we got accustomed to the name Orator for BlackBerry in the last few months, Oratio is less generic and provides a more personalized name and sound for the product says Michel Pepin, Product Manager at HumanWare.

Availability:
Oratio will first be released in North America in English, supporting the BlackBerry Curve 8520 smartphone from AT&T, available through online purchasing from www.oratio4bb.com for $449 US for a single license. Support for additional BlackBerry smartphone models and languages will be available in subsequent versions of Oratio.

Oratio is the product of the joint collaborative efforts between HumanWare, Code Factory, the leading provider of screen reader technology and maker of Mobile Speak, and Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the award winning portfolio of BlackBerry products and solutions. Oratio users will experience more freedom and independence in their activities with the ability to stay connected anytime, anywhere. Users will also experience greater flexibility to manage their day-to-day activities in ways that are most convenient for them, increase their productivity and achieve more by quickly and efficiently accessing information they need.

Oratio also provides employers with an accommodation solution for blind and visually impaired employees that leverages an organization’s existing investment in BlackBerry infrastructure and technologies.

Feature rich, through its easy to use menu and efficient shortcut keys, Oratio will provide users with:

Intuitive and familiar audio user interface.
Easy-to-use customization options for frequently used settings.
Auto start mode when the device turns on.
Different verbosity levels to allow users to define the amount of information provided.
Keyboard echo settings for text entry.
Easy to use command structure.
Support for BlackBerry smartphone’s core applications.

BlackBerry smartphones offer multiple applications essential in a business environment. Oratio was designed to support the core application found on the BlackBerry smatrtphones allowing visually impaired users to:

Manage instant messaging, emails, SMS and MMS.
Make and receive calls with access to caller ID on incoming calls.
Manage contact list and call log.
Schedule appointments and tasks with alarms and reminders.
Access to the phone’s settings, ring tones, speed dials and voice tags.

Oratio is the first screen reader solution for a JavaME operating software (O/S). While this first release version may not answer each specific individual user’s needs, HumanWare, with the joint collaboration of RIM and Code Factory, remain dedicated and committed to the future development growth of the product. We invite Oratio users to share their experiences with the product. This will provide us with directions on how to improve their BlackBerry smartphone experience says Michel Pepin. Our goal is to provide equal access to visually impaired users by enabling them to access and operate BlackBerry devices in a manner that is functionally equivalent to solutions offered to sighted BlackBerry users.

About HumanWare
HumanWare (www.humanware.com) is the global leader in assistive technologies for the print disabled. HumanWare provides products to people who are blind or have low vision and students with learning disabilities. HumanWare offers a collection of innovative products, including BrailleNote, the leading productivity device for the blind in education, business and for personal use; the Victor Reader product line, the world’s leading digital audiobook players; the SmartView family of handheld and desktop electronic magnifiers; and myReader2, HumanWare’s unique “auto-reader”. For more information about HumanWare, visit www.humanware.com.

About Code Factory
Code Factory is the leading provider of screen readers, screen magnifiers, and Braille interfaces for the widest range of mainstream mobile devices. Our mission is to break down barriers to the accessibility of mobile technology for the blind and visually impaired. Our accessible solutions are used in more than 50 countries and 30 languages. Among Code Factory’s customers are well known organizations for the blind such as ONCE, and carriers such as AT&T, Bouygues Telecom, SFR, and Vodafone. To learn more about Code Factory, visit http://www.codefactory.es.

©2010 HumanWare.

LL