At long last, an accessible screen sharing solution: Zoom


By the time you read to the end of this post, if you are a screen reader user, your employability potential could be vastly improved. At long last, there is an accessible screen sharing platform that can make the difference between participating in mainstream work, running a remote demonstration independently, leading a video conference, or giving an online presentation, without sighted assistance. What’s more, this is not a work-around. It’s cutting edge, elegant, and best of all…mainstream technology.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the pervasive unemployment situation in the blindness community has been the inability to access some of the most commonly used technology that is standard in many businesses around the world: Screen sharing. the most widely-used platforms, referred to by names such as Go To My PC, along with Go To Webinar and Go To Meeting iterations, Web X, Log Me In, and others, have long been inaccessible for screen reader users. If you have ever found yourself forced to reject a job opportunity, or being forcibly excluded from one, simply because you cannot use this type of technology, you are not alone. Years ago, I had to leave a lucrative position because the job duties included the implementation of a screen sharing program, and I was no longer able to do the work. There was no accessible solution, and at the time, no amount of plying the development team with requests for accessibility support proved fruitful. this heartbreaking situation is no doubt repeated throughout the community, as the technology landscape seems to widen the so-called digital divide.

Recently, I found myself in a similar position. I was presented with a remote teaching opportunity that, seemingly, I would be unable to accept, thanks to the inaccessibility of the platform being used, one of those mentioned above.

The job requirements included that I not only teach my content, but that I also interact with the students, fielding questions, taking a regular roll call, keeping tabs on who was focused on the presentation screen, as opposed to surfing the web, launching video, using on-screen handouts, and reporting on student activity statistics. As the “host,” or moderator of the class, content producer and presenter, I would be required to manage all these tasks while teaching extended continuing education courses lasting several hours. Aware that the platform already in use by the company with which I was contracted was inaccessible, I hired a consultant to assist me in finding an alternative. I was told that if I could find such an alternative, the job was mine. Otherwise, the job would go to a sighted educator.

The consultant evaluated a half-dozen screen sharing products, from well-known tech brands to blindness-specific conference room chat platforms. If one of the options suited the technical specifications of the company I would be working with, such as attendee size, real-time uptime support, or audio/video quality, it failed on the access piece. If accessibility to any degree was supported, then it seemed to favor the attendee, rather than the presenter. If a platform proved to be usable with a screen reader, it failed to meet my audience management or interactivity requirements. Frustrated beyond belief, I interrogated my consultant friend, demanding to know why there was no accessible platform available. None of his answers were satisfactory on any level. This was not, however, for lack of trying. Accounts were opened, or, borrowed. Developers were contacted. Support tickets and bug reports were submitted. Mock presentations were crafted. Apps were downloaded, remote screen reader control was used, calls to colleagues were made. Finally, he concluded, there was just no accessible solution to be had.

I was livid. I ranted and raved and paced the room while I had him on the phone, railing at the injustice of it all. It was maddening to me that but for an inaccessible video player/launcher, or some such triviality, I would be denied meaningful work. this was totally unacceptable to me. My consultant offered to create a work-around, something that would enable screen sharing that re-routed the audio from my screen reader and video in such a way that the audience could hear one, but not the other. Something about a mixer…a second sound card…I don’t know…I was in a rage fog. “It may be too complicated,” he warned me. “You’ll have to manage all this on the fly. And if it goes down, there’s no one to get you up and running.”

In a fit of fury, I pounded three words into a search engine: Accessible video conferencing. Insert clouds parting, glittering golden rays of sunshine pouring forth while the angels sing an alleluia here.

Enter Zoom. Zoom is the first mainstream accessible screen sharing platform that is robust, mainstream, feature-rich, mainstream, and accessible to both presenter/content originator and attendees. Did I mention it’s mainstream?

This is the solution you’ve been waiting for… this is the answer to the interview question, we use X Y Z product here, and the job requires you give presentations…or demos…or consultations…or product training…or teach classes…or collaborate with team members in a satellite location…does that sound like something you can do?”

Now, with Zoom, the answer can be yes.

The Zoom web site is loaded with lots of what you would expect with regard to features and benefits, but this is what jumped out at me right away: The Accessibility page. I only have three words for you…compliance, compliance, compliance. Zoom is not new, but their accessibility improvements are. From the Zoom web site:

“Zoom is committed to ensuring universal access to our products and services, so that all meeting hosts and participants can have the best experience possible. Zoom’s accessibility features enable users with disabilities to schedule, attend, and participate in Zoom meetings and webinars, view recordings, and access administrative features across our supported devices.”

Here’s the link to the Zoom home page:

Click here to go to Zoom home

Zoom actually has a dedicated accessibility team, and the update notes are logged as recently as February in some cases, and last week in others. Zoom services are compatible with standard screen readers such as VoiceOver on iOS and OSX platforms, TalkBack on Android devices, and NVDA for Windows platforms. Check it out on the Zoom accessibility page:

Click here to go to the Zoom accessibility page

Apologizing in advance for my use of hyperbole here, this product is revolutionary. For me, it is going to make the difference between being able to do work or not. As with many similar platforms, there are several levels of feature sets, all with tiered pricing, but there is also a free basic level that is better than just a trial version or a limited-time demo. For those of you who have been trying to solve the problem of interviewing multiple people in different locations while recording everyone for a podcast without sounding like one or more of you is talking from the bottom of a trash dumpster, this is your solution. Want to start up a speaking business? Offer classes? Show off your work product without compatibility concerns? The free, basic level lets you interview or screen share/chat with one person with no time limit, or more than one person for 40 minutes. You can record directly from the dashboard. Need to present to 100 attendees? 1000? 5000? You can…for any number of competitive pricing models.

I don’t know who I could contact on the Zoom team to thank them for what amounts to a technological miracle for me, but I am thrilled. And did I mention it’s mainstream?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I did apologize to my consultant for yelling.

LL

Answering some FAQ’s about the AT Work jobs board


One specific area of interest which has always been near and dear to my heart is the subject of disability and employment. In the past, I have been an employee in a corporate, retail, and commissioned sales settings. More recently, I have been an employer, and as a result of this varied background, I feel I have a fairly good view of the work search landscape. My efforts to advocate for people who have disabilities have not only consisted of direct hiring, but also offering advice to individuals seeking gainful employment. One of my most recent attempts at outreach in this area has been to set up a job board page, which is attach to my web site.

The job board site is not unlike many you’ve probably seen. many webmasters have added job board sites as a way to monetize their site or blog, or to add another “sticky” feature to their site so as to encourage more site visits or page views. Whatever the reason, many of the site owners who use these job board services use one of several that offer a site owner a variation of a main site, which is part of a larger network of jobs in a massive database. This is done by making available search niches that can be narrowed by region, state, job type, or any number of subcategories. Once you choose an area of interest that you believe will be relevant to your site visitors or site content, you can then “carve out” your little piece of the jobs database and create a jobs board page that is customized for your audience.

The job board itself is not monetized, in that they feature no ads. At least, the one I use does not feature ads. typically, work search is free to job seekers, and the fields that are populated with jobs come from the massive database of jobs that are collected from all over the web. The owner of the job board site can solicit for relevant postings from employers who are offering opportunities in that particular niche. In other words, if you have a job board site offering work in the hospitality industry, you might invite potential employers who are hiring for concierge or housekeeping or reservation positions to advertise those opportunities on your page. you can then charge the employer to place the ad.

On my own jobs board site, AT Work, I post jobs related to technology that require skills in the areas of accessible web development, 508 compliance testing, orientation and mobility specialists, educators or trainers who specialize in accessibility or disability awareness. Not all of the opportunities on my jobs board have been posted to my site specifically, some have come from the jobs database at large. On my site, employers can post a job for $39 which is significantly less than what Linked In or other career site and work search classifies charge.

The AT Work accessibility jobs board [http://tinyurl.com/6f5btoz] represents my little portion of the database. Additionally, I use the @Accessible_Jobs Twitter account to post tweets about career management, resume writing, economic news, work search tips, and general encouragement to followers seeking work. The jobs board isn’t specifically for people who are blind or otherwise disabled to find employment, rather, it’s for individuals who work in the field of accessible web development, usability, and so on.

Recently, I received a tweet asking how one might go about pursuing one of these job tweets, and if they are “real” jobs. The question inspired the realization that I haven’t written about the job board since I installed it around two years ago, and I thought it was time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

1: Are the jobs “real” jobs?

Yes. Though not all of the opportunities are posted directly through my page, they are real job opportunities. Employers have to pay a fee to post a job. When they post a job opening with me directly, I frequently have an email exchange with them, so as to learn a bit more about the job being offered. For the employers who are actually paying the $39 to post on my site, I spend more time promoting that job. I might retweet it a number of times throughout the posting period, I’ll retweet it to my other Twitter accounts, or I’ll attempt to call your attention to it in some other way. I do all I can to assist the employer in finding the right person for the job, so as to ensure a win-win for all concerned.

2: How do I apply?

If you click on the link associated with the job tweet, you will be taken to a “more information” page, where you’ll see the job description and other relevant information. The company may be hiring for multiple positions, so you may be able to click a link that will take you further into the company Human Resources pages, where you can see a full list of all the jobs, whether or not in your area of expertise.

3: Do you tweet every job available on your site?

No. Since the job tweets are only served up to Twitter on a schedule that I specify, you’ll only see the newest job listings posted about every six hours. I did this so as to minimize cluttering up a follower’s Twitter stream. I’ve seen those Twitter feeds that spit out updates once every minute or two, and they drive me crazy. Typically, I unfollow them. I have no desire to irritate my followers.

4: How can I see a more complete list of available jobs?

Go directly to the At Work jobs board site. you can get to it by going to the Accessible Insights web site [http://www.accessibleinsights.info], which I recommend you do with your hand covering your eyes, as I have not updated the site in a long time, it has languished in a code graveyard, where it awaits a defibrillator or stem cell treatment. Click on the link that pertains to work search, and you’ll get there. Or, just go directly to the job board, bypassing the abomination that passes for my web site, which you will find by going to:

http://jobs.accessibleinsights.info/a/jbb/find-jobs

Incidentally, I’d like to hire someone to overhaul the site, so if you know someone…

5: I don’t see much that interests me there, how can I see more job listings?

At the bottom of the job listings page, there are a few search boxes that you can use to specify some particulars, such as full- or part-time jobs, jobs in related fields, or jobs in a specific geographical region. The AT Work jobs board only posts opportunities that are available in the U. S.

6: How does an employer post a job?

By clicking on the “post a job” link. The process is simple and straightforward. an employer can post detailed information, and the additional info can be accessed by job seekers who click on the “more info” link on the listings page.

7: Can you help me get a job?

I do not work in human resources, nor am I a work search consultant or headhunter. I am in no way associated with the Employment Services Department with the U. S. government, or any other employment agency. However, I’ll do all I can to assist you in your work search efforts, even if that means promoting your skills and expertise by featuring you as a “job seeker of the week.” You can read more about that here: [http://tinyurl.com/7o3ru8h].

I’m also happy to offer tips on work search, interviewing, and networking. As a long-time employer of workers in a variety of work environments, I can certainly assist with everything from skills assessment to resume writing. Or, if you just need someone to listen to your work-search misery and offer encouragement, I can do that, too.

For additional information or questions about any of the above, feel free to use the accessible contact form on the blog page. Always a pleasure to share my accessible insights with you.

LL

The theme of this amusement park is accessibility


Okay, fun’s over.  The kids are back at school, the long, lazy days of summer have given way to the long haul before the next shot at vacation, and unbelievably, some people (guilty as charged) have already extended holiday invitations.  Drag in the patio furniture, snow is right around the corner.

 

Now that many of you have clicked away, I’ll answer a question that has been asked anonymously of the "everything you ever wanted to know about disability, but were afraid to ask" staff.  In this case, the Accessible Insights Blog staff consists of only me, however I reach out to a brilliant group of masterminds who contribute to the cause.  more on that here .  The question was asked, "Are there any disability-friendly amusement parks or attractions for children?"

 

This question can be interpreted broadly, as in:  Wwhere can I bring a special needs child for fun?"  Or, more narrowly as:  “Is there such a thing as an amusement park specifically for people who have disabilities?”

 

The answer is yes to both.  In this post, I’ll focus on a few ideas for you to consider when it’s time to extend that summer fun for just a little longer.

 

Museums:  Many museums offer special "after hours" programs for a variety of groups.  Give your local galleries a call to find out if they can provide close-up, hands-on and guided educational programs for individuals who have disabilities.  many museums do offer visitors options for viewing the objects via a variety of technologies, such as hand-held recorded

descriptions of the installations, or a docent who can give tours using sign language.  Some museums even offer a special room or wing just for people with disabilities to examine art objects up close.  Seek out museums that encourage interactivity, such as The Exploratorium in  San Francisco, California.

    

National parks:  Did you know that people with disabilities can apply for a "Golden Pass," that permits access to any park at no cost?  This lifetime pass can make planning park visits a little easier for a family.  Also, both local and national parks offer accessible or "barrier free" trails that are specifically for wheelchair users and less experienced hikers.  These trails are usually wider, well graded or in some cases paved, and have fewer topographical obstacles such as rocks, water or steep slopes.  Check out the Oregon Barrier-free trail that meanders through the northernmost stand of Redwood trees, for example.  It’s an easy1/2 mile loop.  I was married along that trail, right in front of a hollowed-out, ancient Redwood. 
      
Amusement parks: If you live near a theme park, you may already be aware of a special day set aside for fun-seekers who have disabilities.   However, I recently learned of an amusement park especially for kids and adults alike who have need of greater accessibility.  It’s called Morgan’s Wonderland.  Here is some copy straight from the Morgan’s Wonderland web site:
 
"Morgan’s Wonderland, located in San Antonio, Texas, was built in the true spirit of inclusion to provide a place where all ages and abilities can come together and play in a fun and safe environment. Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first ultra-accessible family fun park, encompasses 25 acres of rides, attractions and activities for everyone, and all are welcome.”

 

If you  visit the Morgan’s Wonderland web site, (http://www.morganswonderland.com) you can watch videos about the park, check out the attractions, find lodging and make a donation.  Morgan’s Wonderland is the first of what many hope will be other destinations like it.        Admission is free to people with disabilities and only $15 for everyone else.  Read about Morgan’s story, and the gift that brings fun, friends and family together in a safe, accessible and inclusive place.

 

Are there any similar parks, museums or attractions in your area, just for people with disabilities?  If you know of any, please share.  Here is another article on accessible travel that provides more information about places to visit:

 

Travel Outlook for People with Disabilities

 

 

LL