Maintain situational awareness while accessing audio input with AfterShokz


Sometimes, a good sales pitch can begin with a story. What follows is a story about someone I met at the recent CSUN13 conference. If you can stay with me until the end, I will try to make it worth your while.

One morning during the conference week while sitting alone at the Grand Hyatt Starbucks, at a tiny table adjacent to the busy lobby coffee bar, a voice said, “Excuse me, Mind if I join you?”

I looked up. “Of course not,” I answered, hurriedly clearing away the detritus of my coffee and muffin. “Thanks,” he said. “Tables are at a premium here.”

We introduced ourselves, and he asked if I was attending the conference. I said yes, then realized that I had not noticed that he was using a service dog, nor did he seem to have a white cane. “Are you?” I asked. “Are you exhibiting? A vendor?”

“Not exactly,” he explained. “But I’m here to market my product to the blind community. Here. Let me show you.” Then, he placed something on the table in front of me. “It’s a pair of headphones,” he said.

I picked up a feather-light, super-streamlined piece of gear, noticing immediately that it resembled no pair of headphones I had ever seen. “They’re called bone-conduction headphones,” he continued. “Let me put them on you.” He placed the headphones around the back of my neck, placing what would normally be the portion worn over the ears at my temporal bone instead. Then, I experienced a surreal sensation. I was hearing both full volume music coming from the headphones, along with the ambient noise of the crowded coffee shop. I could…feel…the sound, while not only hearing it, but also being fully aware of the activity around me.

Dennis Taussig is the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer VP of AfterShokz, a company that has produced the world’s first open ear bone -conduction headphones for runners, cyclists, sports enthusiasts, and now, thanks to the blind community, an ingenious application for us, too.   
 
Originally, the technology was created by VoxTech, one of the leading companies in the world to supply this technology to the military.  Dennis worked on a number of projects with the principle of Voxtech, and one day Dennis was contacted to find out if a consumer version of this technology was possible.  Within months, a company was formed, and AfterShokz made it’s debut at the Consumer Electronics show )International CES in January, 2012. 
 
AfterShokz bone- conduction headphones are ideal for anyone who wants to maintain situational awareness while still listening to important audio cues, such as that which is provided by text-to-speech GPS navigation devices.  You can travel to your destination while hearing instructions from your iPad or iPhone, listen to music or a podcast while on a bus, or work out at the gym to your favorite motivational guru and still hear the tap of your white cane, the driver call out your bus stop, or your personal trainer counting off the reps.  It’s a fascinating product, and Dennis credits the blind community with providing the ideas that expanded the business. 
 
“I was getting calls from people who are blind,” says Taussig.  “And they kept asking if the headphones could be used with their Bluetooth devices for navigation.” 
 
Since his exposure to the disability community, Dennis has gone “all in” with respect to his commitment to accessibility.  He volunteers at Syracuse University working with disabled students, and he has assisted educators to enable their blind students to learn math by providing the headphones so that the students can hear their screen reader and the professor at the same time.  “They’re not cut off from the teacher, nor the teacher from them,” Dennis explains. 
 
The sonification lab at Georgia Tech has conducted a study on teaching systems for blind students, who are learning math graphing using audio.
AfterShokz is providing equipment for the testing, enabling the students to hear the sonification and teacher at the same time.
 
Dennis wants these headphones to be available to all of us, and he is so emphatic that they should not be financially out of reach that he has permitted me to offer my readers a generous discount towards the purchase of AfterShokz.  Go to the AfterShokz web site at www.aftershokz.com and choose from one of several models.  If you’d like to be able to make/take calls, order the Sportz M2 which features a microphone. If you require a headset that isBluetooth compatible, choose Bluez. Enter LL40 at checkout, and you’ll get 40% off the price.  No, I do not financially benefit, I just want my readers to experience the AfterShokz phenomenon.  Since I know my geek friends love a good technical specifications deck, just write to me using the accessible contact form on the page, and I’ll send you product data sheets on the different models, along with spec info.
 
Don’t forget to enter LL40 when you check out to save some serious coin. 
 
LL   
 

Abilities Expo to showcase products, services, entertainment for all abilities


Elegant Insights Braille Creations will be at the San Jose Abilities Expo on November 16-18, 2012 at the San Jose Convention Center where we would like to introduce you to all the great things we have to offer! In addition to Elegant Insights, there will be approximately 150 suppliers of products and services that will increase your quality of life through new technology, great seminars on important issues and networking that will meet your specific needs. There is NO CHARGE for the Expo and it’s the leading event for people with disabilities, their families, caregivers, seniors, veterans and healthcare professionals.

 

If you have not pre-registered, you can do so now and receive priority entrance to the show onsite.  In addition to the distinctive Elegant Insights Braille-embossed jewelry and accessories collection, here are just a few of the remarkable things that you will experience:

The latest products and services for people with ALL disabilities
Cutting-edge assistive technology at the AT Pavilion
No charge loaner scooters, wheelchair repair and sign language interpreters
Low-cost daily living aids at the Retail Pavilion
Special dance performance from AXIS Dance Company, as seen on So You Think You Can Dance
Face art for kids
Compelling workshops on the issues that make a difference to you
Canine assistance demos to learn how dogs can help their human partners
See real live horses in action and learn how they help people with disabilities
Meet the stars and get a sneak peek of season 2 of Push Girls, a new Sundance channel docu-series that traces the lives of four dynamic women in Hollywood who happen to be in wheelchairs
Hip-hop wheelchair dancing for the latest moves and great exercise
Adaptive sports
Essentials for seniors
And more!

The website is continually updated with new features so log on to http://www.abilitiesexpo.com/sanjose as often as possible. You don’t even have to wait for the show to connect with your peers. “Like” the Abilities Expo Facebook Page today and weigh in on timely discussions, post comments on disability issues or get the latest show news. You can also follow them on Twitter and sign up for their monthly e-newsletter.

Abilities Expo San Jose will be here before you know it so mark your calendar now, Friday, November 16 through Sunday, November 18 at the San Jose Convention Center.
Find Elegant Insights on FB:  www.facebook.com/Elegant.Insights
Chirp at us on Twitter:  @ElegantInsights

LL

 

An indoor navigation solution for blind users? Check out Navatar


This is absolutely fascinating.  Ever wonder why there are no navigational devices suitable for indoor use?  Ever wished to be able to efficiently navigate a mall, a hotel, or other indoor space?  Wonder why, when there is no end to the solutions for auto or pedestrian use, there seems to be no version of GPS for people who are blind to use indoors? 

Take a look at this.  It’s called Navatar.  In its earliest stages, research is being conducted on a device to assist blind users to move around in smaller spaces indoors.  Read more here:

http://eelke.com/navatar-indoor-navigation-blind.html

Dr. Eelke Folmer is an Associate Professor researching Human-Computer Interaction
in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno.  "We are planning to expand our navigation system with a new feature that can help with spatial perception," says Eelke.  "We are currently sending out a questionnaire to potential users of our system to better understand the barriers of indoor navigation."

Want to help with the research?  below is a short questionnaire that you can fill out and send to Eelke.  Just cut and paste the questions into the body of an email, answer as thoroughly as you can, and send off the email to the address at the bottom of this post. 

I hope to have the opportunity to field test the actual device, so you can grease the wheels for me by letting Eelke know I sent you.  Well, now that I think of it, perhaps too many respondents will actually work to my detriment.  Hmmm.  Okay, here are the questions:

1. What type of visual impairment do you have?

2. Do you use a cane to navigate in indoor environments? and if so can
you name some limitations on using a cane in indoor environments?

3. Do you use a cane to explore the layout of a room? if not do you
use other techniques? e.g. hands?

4. Can you describe the process you follow to familiarize yourself
with the contents of a room?

5. When you look for an object in a room (e.g., phone or coffee cup)
what techniques do you use?

6. Do you sometimes use a sighted person to familiarize yourself with
an indoor environment? If so what kind of questions do you ask this
person?

7. If we could build a tool that could help with spatial exploration,
what kind of features would you like this to have?
 
Send completed questionnaire to:  Eelke Folmer -  eelke.folmer at gmail.com

LL

 

CSUN12: The ultimate user experience


Sitting down to compose this post, I found myself unsure as to how to begin.  I wanted to write a wrap-up of sorts of the 27th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, sponsored by CSUN, but I had not attended the event from the very first day.  I thought others would be more likely to write a more thorough recap of the event.  What could I contribute, having only attended the conference for three days?

 

In fact, I would not have attended at all were it not for the kindness of a stranger.  Unable to find a room in the San Diego area, I realized I had waited too long to make a hotel reservation, and the nearest available room was almost fifteen minutes away from the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the conference venue.  Tweeting my frustration to an online friend, I received a tweet from Elle Waters (@nethermind).  "If you need a place to stay," she tweeted at me, "you can share my room."

 

"Are you kidding?" I tweeted back, incredulous.  "How do you know I’m not a psycho killer?"

 

"I’m optimistic."  Elle tweeted back. "I’ll send you all the info and my contact details."

 

True to her word, she did just that.  With an extra bed in the room, Elle explained, it was no problem for her to share the space, and she left a room key for me at the front desk, enabling me to sleep in a far more preferable condition than on a bus bench or under an exhibit hall table.

 

Upon arriving at the hotel, I discerned immediately that the plane on which I traveled to San Diego could have easily landed directly into the lobby.  it was so cavernous, so without landmarks, and so filled with the sounds of voices, cane tapping and assorted other hotel lobby sounds, each echoing around the interior space in a way that I found difficult to interpret for good navigation, I feared a very troublesome experience.  I need not have been concerned.

 

Throughout my stay, I found myself lost many times.  However, I barely went astray ten feet before someone at the hotel, either staff or volunteer, had redirected me with courtesy and professionalism.  There was nowhere I could turn without an almost immediate inquiry as to whether or not I needed any assistance.  I traveled from point A to point B in the hotel with surprising efficiency, and I did not find myself frustrated even once.  Again, the kindness of strangers helped make my stay an enjoyable one.

 

This was my fourth CSUN conference on disability, my first since the move to San Diego.  My first was probably around fifteen years ago.  It was a very different event then, there was no Twitter or other social media to connect attendees in advance of the event, therefor the atmosphere felt very different.  Since this was my first conference as a "tweep," I really felt a tremendous amount of anticipation to meet the strangers with whom I have been "tweeting" for years, but have never actually met in the ‘meatspace."  I was excited about the opportunities, yet also a little anxious over the possibility that I might be the oldest person in the room.  I wasn’t sure if now, all of the online technophiles were all under the age of twenty-five.  Would I feel out of place?

 

Again, I need not have been concerned.  Upon meeting many of my Twitter contacts, I was delighted to realize that the vast majority of them thought of me as a friend, not a stranger, and it felt more like "old home week," than a collection of strangers uncomfortably ignoring each other in an elevator.  I was greeted with warmth and enthusiasm, some seemed genuinely glad to meet me in person, I was invited here and there and everywhere for socializing and education, and even individuals whom I have regarded with a certain amount of awe were cordial, engaged, even affectionate.  My head was spinning.  The last thing I expected was to be treated like I was welcome, valued, and interesting.  These were no strangers, as it turned out.

 

For many years, one of my own accessibility mantras has been that true accessibility is more than a mandate, it’s a mind-set.  What makes any place accessible isn’t only the architectural enhancements, but the attitudinal ones.  I have always believed that access is as much about excellent customer service as it is about wheelchair ramps or Braille dots.  Yes, the educational sessions were brilliant, the technology was fascinating, and the weather was superb, but it was the people with whom I interacted at the CSUN conference that made it the ultimate accessible, user experience.

 

Thank you to all whom I met at the event, all of those strangers who will never be strangers again.

 

LL 
    

Lessons learned from a cab ride from hell


Almost any story, no matter how tragic, can seem amusing after putting some distance between yourself and the crisis.  In editing this story, I found myself laughing, but at the time, I can assure you I felt no mirth whatsoever.  Now that I can achieve a little perspective, I think I can write this in such a way as to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek while offering a cautionary tale about traveling when you have a disability, and share some lessons learned.

Recently I returned from a business trip, and was anxious to get home.  After collecting my luggage from the airport baggage claim, I sought the taxi stand.  I live less than a half hour from the airport, and after such a long trip, culminating in a seemingly interminable travel day, I was thrilled to be headed home.  Unfortunately, the last thirty minutes of the trip proved to be the most hazardous.  Here is my tale of woe, shared in hope of helping other blind travelers to avoid my mistakes.

As the first taxi van pulled up to the front of the line, the airport public service attendant who assisted me with my luggage commented, "I know this guy.  He’s a friend of mine.  He’ll take care of you."  Mistake number one:  Accepting the word of one stranger about the trustworthiness of another stranger. 

Seasoned traveler that I am, I learned long ago some important safety tips regarding getting into a vehicle that I cannot see.  After all, just because someone says it’s a taxi, doesn’t mean that it is.  With no way to verify this information, I am very careful about only getting into a vehicle that I have requested in advance, whereupon the driver will confirm my name and other information.   I am usually vigilant about getting the name of the driver and the cab company before I get into the vehicle.  In this case, though, I was catching the cab spontaneously from the public taxi stand, and had not thought to gather this information in the moment. So, I took the luggage porter at his word that he knew the cab driver. 

As my luggage was being loaded into the  back of the taxi, I asked the driver to estimate the cost of the ride.  Since I took a taxi to get to the airport to begin with, I knew about how much the fare should be, but I always ask just in case the possibility of transporting a blind woman might inspire a taxi driver to lie. 

In this case, he did not lie, he was silent.  I repeated the question.  He stuttered and stammered and then said in barely comprehensible English that  he did not know.  I asked him to phone in to the dispatcher for the estimate.  he said he couldn’t do that.  I asked him why not.  After a number of excruciating minutes, I gleaned that he had never heard of the city in which I live,   and he said he needed to plug my address into his GPS, then he could tell me the fare.  Mistake number two:  Never enter a vehicle with someone who is incapable of communicating in your language. 

Mistake number 3:  If he cannot speak your language, ensure his technology can speak  HIS language.

The luggage porter was still standing nearby, so I turned to him.  "You are telling me that this guy is okay?"  I asked in an effort to confirm the driver was legit.  "Sure," repeated the porter, "he’ll take care of you." 

All of my instincts were telling me not to get into the cab, but I was anxious to get home, so I did it anyway. 

 

Mistake number 4:  Always trust your instincts.  Always.  .

My first clue that this was going to be a nightmare was when he could not understand me when I gave him my address, which he was struggling to enter into the GPS while struggling to drive off the airport property.  At rush hour on a weekday, navigating the airport passenger pickup area and departing from the terminals area is a scary proposition under the best of circumstances, but combine that with an uncomprehending driver who cannot operate a GPS unit and you have a ride like a demolition derby.  Granted, I may not be able to fully appreciate the nuances of adept driving, but based upon the number of blaring horns I heard in response to what the driver was doing, it was quite the symphony of road rage out there.                
              

No matter how many times I repeated my address, spelled the name of my street (two one-syllable words), or repeated and spelled the name of the exit off the freeway, there would be no getting through.  He was a stranger in a strange land, an alien with a fundamental illiteracy that would soon put me in danger.  Weaving through and swerving around traffic, and using his foot like a jackhammer on the gas pedal, we lurched onto the freeway.  He ignored my every effort to offer suggestions as to how to get me home, while he repeatedly attempted to type my address into his device.  "No work," he muttered, asking me to repeat my street name yet again.  "Not here."  Out of frustration, I finally insisted that he phone his dispatcher to get directions.  "Please understand," I implored, "I am blind, and if you miss the exit off the freeway I will be of little help to you.  I cannot give you directions other than what I know," I finished weakly, realizing that I had been living in my new city just a few months, and had not yet fully grasped the lay of the land.  "I don’t have much cash on hand…if we get lost, the fare may amount to more cash than I have.  I cannot afford to pay for your inability to use your GPS."  Mistake number 5:  Know how to tell someone else how to get to your home by more than one route.  Learn your new city layout as quickly as you learn your new address and phone number.   

The driver pulled out his phone and called a person he described as a friend.  this friend was supposed to give him directions, based upon my address, presumably consulting his own GPS, or Google maps, or his Magic 8 Ball, or something, and passing along instructions to my wild-eyed cab driver. 

I became alarmed.  I realized that the radio I was hearing in the vehicle may in fact have been tuned to a dispatch channel, but it was not a channel apparently meant for him.  This man had absolutely no idea where he was, or where he was going.  He could not understand a word I said.  he could not function with the GPS.  He was weaving wildly all over the freeway.  He could not pronounce, even with a spelling, the name of my street, and began to shout at me to say the names of the freeway exit and the name of my street over and over.  Still, even if he grasped this information, I realized that I would still need to explain how to proceed through the points in between.  I do not live twenty steps from the freeway exit.  There are a number of streets in between the freeway and home, and I had no idea how I would communicate this to him.  He was still jabbering into the phone, stabbing at the GPS with one finger, as if by random chance it might suddenly announce my destination, and trying to steer all at once.  "He say no street!  No street!" He insisted, going back and forth between me and the mystery dispatcher.   

By now, we were shouting at each other.  He refused to let me out of the car, call a home office, or tell me the meter reading on the fare.  He also would not tell me the name of the cab company or his own name.  I frantically searched the inside of the vehicle for pamphlets or business cards or anything that had his cab ID on it.  There was no Braille inside the van which provided the phone number for the taxi oversight authority.  I realized now that I was in a vehicle that I could not identify operated by a man I could not identify.  he could take me anywhere.  Then, he became so disoriented and agitated, he came to a stop on the freeway. 

"Are you crazy?"  I shrieked.  "Are you crazy?  We are on a freeway!  You can’t stop on a freeway!"  he told me to shut up and calm down, while he spoke in rapid-fire utterances to the person on the phone.  I wasn’t even sure I knew what language he was speaking.  Cars were streaking by us, rocking the van from side to side with the air displacement as they whipped by.  "I’m calling the police."  I announced, taking out my phone and turning it on, cursing myself that I had not done so when I deplaned.  "You are crazy, you are going to get us killed."  I declared, believing those to be my last words on this Earth. 

"Calm down," the driver yelled at me, "I’m trying to figure it out." 

My phone battery was dead.  It wouldn’t dial out.  Mistake number 6:  Ensure your technology is fully charged at all times while traveling.

While I was silently praying I would survive the trip home, the driver shot forward into the flow of traffic.  "Okay, found exit," he announced, as though that ought to quiet me.  "We go.  All fine." 

The story continues to deteriorate from here.  I’ll skip  the rest.  The upshot is that I did eventually get home, and after three stops at the side of various streets for consultation with his phone friend the cartographer and his uncooperative GPS,  I handed the driver every cent I had with me, which totaled fifty-seven dollars, almost twice the typical fare.  Unfortunately, though, this was a few cents short of the amount due.  Fearing that he would drive off with my luggage in the back of the car, I waited to exit the vehicle until it was unloaded, then handed him the cash folded up so that he had to stop to count it while I was dragging my bags up my driveway. 

"You really should tip me." he demanded.  "this is not enough.  The fare was more than this," he called after me, suddenly able to communicate. 

I was incredulous.  "Well, maybe it wouldn’t have been, had you not been running the meter while you stopped on the freeway and three other times trying to find my address."  I snapped.  "That’s all I’ve got, so take it and go."  I shoved my bags into my garage, quickly closed the door, and ran inside before he could assault me.  He waited outside my home for a long time before pulling away. 

I wish I had thought to take a photo with my phone.  I might have been able to snap a picture sufficient to identify the driver or the vehicle to the authorities at some point later.  but I didn’t, and I realize now that I could not have anyway, since my phone battery was dead.  So, with no identifying information about the driver, the vehicle, or the cab company, I had no one to whom to complain.

I did make a half-hearted effort to appeal to the local taxi authority, but with no supporting evidence, I came across as though I had conjured up the entire ordeal out of thin air.

The moral of this story is that one just cannot be too careful, and that hazards await at every turn, even those leading to your own driveway.  Please comment below and share your own travel nightmares.  Do you have any of your own tips for travelers who have disabilities?  Let’s start a list. 

  LL

On the DOT: Efforts to achieve greater access to transportation


Here is a little more info on the latest efforts on the part of the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve access for people with disabilities.

   
http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/09/20/department-transportation-continues-fight-accessibility
Department of Transportation Continues the Fight for Accessibility

 
One of Secretary Ray LaHood’s top priorities at the Department of Transportation (DOT) is to make transportation more accessible for people with disabilities.  "Since arriving at DOT, I’ve worked closely with staff across the agency to help raise awareness and develop policies and regulations to help Secretary LaHood achieve this goal."

Just last week, Secretary LaHood announced that individuals with disabilities will have greater access to intercity, commuter and high-speed train travel as a result of a new rule requiring new station platform construction or significant renovation to enable those with disabilities to get on and off any car on a train.  "The disability community from across the country has cited the difficulty or inability to board a train as a major barrier to employment and travel opportunities.  Through this amendment to DOT’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, people with disabilities will now have greater access to intercity, commuter and high-speed train travel. And I’m pleased to say that this new rule considers the needs of multiple DOT partners because it takes into account the critical needs of people with disabilities as well as freight railroads and operations.

"

"I am also pleased that Secretary LaHood today announced that DOT is proposing to require that websites and kiosks be made accessible for air travelers with disabilities. Under the proposed rule, U.S. and foreign carriers would have to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities by meeting the standards for accessibility contained in the widely accepted Website Content Accessibility Guidelines.

"

The proposed rule would also require airlines and airports that use automated kiosks for services such as printing boarding passes and baggage tags to ensure that any kiosk ordered 60 days after the rule takes effect be accessible.  Standards for accessibility would be based on standards for automated transaction machines set by the Department of Justice in its 2010 ADA rule.

 

"As a person who does not have arms or legs, I can say the changes in rail access, and the proposed rule for accessible websites and kiosks, will increase my ability to independently travel and access the world.  These rules demonstrate Secretary LaHood and DOT’s ongoing commitment to improve access to the communities and transportation.  Over the next few weeks, I am looking forward to traveling to Philadelphia, Minnesota and Arizona to meet with leaders of the disability community to discuss these changes and other topics of interest to them."

Richard Devylder is Senior Advisor for Accessible Transportation at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Here’s the world’s most famous address, in case you ever need it:
The White House · 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW · Washington DC 20500 · 202-456-1111

 

LL

New proposal seeks improved access for disabled fliers


While most travelers with disabilities surely appreciate any effort made to accommodate their needs, the proposals mentioned in the article below seem to have been far too long in coming.  Some airlines are certainly better at helping passengers who have disabilities to overcome the barriers imposed by inaccessible web sites and kiosks, some do so only grudgingly, in my experience.  Still, the article left me with a question, which I pose at the end.

 

This article was sent to me via email, so I left the attribution as I found it. 

 

New proposal seeks improved access for disabled fliers
9/20/2011
News Outlet: USA TODAY

The Transportation Department wants to require airlines to make their websites and airport kiosks more accessible to the disabled.

The proposed regulation — made Monday following years of complaints by travelers with disabilities about getting tickets on flights — is similar to a proposal made in 2004 that airlines and travel agents resisted because of the cost and complexity of the changes.

The new proposal calls for the airlines to make their websites accessible to blind people for reservations and check-ins within a year. The airlines would have two years to make the rest of their websites more accessible.

Websites that market U.S. flights also would have to upgrade, although small travel agencies would be exempt.

Under the proposed rule, airlines would also have to upgrade airport kiosks that print boarding passes or baggage tags with braille, audio messages and screens visible 40 inches off the floor. The upgrades to kiosks would apply as airlines replace machines during the next decade.

"I strongly believe that airline passengers with disabilities should have equal access to the same services as all other travelers," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in announcing the proposed regulation.

More than 15 million adults have disabilities with vision, hearing or mobility, according to the Census Bureau, and nearly one-third travel by air.

The advocacy group Paralyzed Veterans of America welcomed the kiosk proposal, saying people with vision and physical impairments have been unable to read screens too high off the ground or use touch-screen functions.

Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, argued that airlines are "openly discriminating" when not using the most accessible technology.

"It is critical for blind people to be able to buy tickets, check in, print boarding passes and select seats independently," Maurer said.

A rule that took effect in May 2008 required airlines to discount tickets for disabled passengers who had to make reservations by phone or in person. Airlines had to provide assistance to disabled passengers who couldn’t use their kiosks.

Parts of that rulemaking were hotly debated for years, with 1,300 comments. The Air Transport Association, an airline industry group, argued at the time it would cost each airline at least $200,000 to upgrade their website, plus tens of thousands more each year in maintenance.

Steve Lott, an association spokesman, said the group is still reviewing the newest proposal.

The administration estimates that tens of millions of dollars spent upgrading websites and kiosks would be offset by having more disabled customers buy tickets and saving the time of airline employees.

The proposed rule will be published this week in the Federal Register, with 60 days for public comment at www.regulations.gov.

 

*End of article.

So, I guess my question is this:  While I’m pleased that the transportation secretary "strongly believes" that travelers with disabilities should have equal access, isn’t it the law?  Why have airlines been exempt from the ADA requirements?  Are they private property, public transportation, or a governmental agency?  All of the above?  If any of my readers can answer the question as to why, over twenty years after passage of the ADA, the airlines are just now getting around to making travel more accessible,  I’d love to know.

 

LL

 

Copyright © 2011 USA TODAY

 

©2011 All Rights Reserved – Copyright 2011 NFB       

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

 

 

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Mobile Accessibility by Code Factory goes Android with robust features


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain, March 2nd, 2011
Today, Code Factory is delighted to introduce Mobile Accessibility, a screen-access application that allows people who are blind or have low vision to use an Android phone in an intuitive, easy and simple way. Mobile Accessibility is the first accessible Android application that permits intuitive touchscreen navigation of Android phones, featuring text readback via natural sounding voices powered by Nuance’s Vocalizer® text-to-speech technology.

Mobile phones have proved to be among the fastest-changing consumer technologies in the world – particularly with the advent of the Android platform. So making mobile phones accessible to the blind and visually impaired is therefore challenging, fascinating, thrilling and totally exciting all at the same time,” explained Eduard Sánchez, Code Factory’s CEO. “There was no doubt that we would target the  Android platform, as we very quickly realized that there was a real need in this specific market for an accessible solution that can provide a user-friendly experience for all blind and low-vision consumers. Mobile Accessibility allows everyone, from beginners to the most tech-savvy, to use an Android phone, no matter if it has physical keys or is touchscreen-only.”

Mobile Accessibility is two products in one:

A suite of 10 accessible applications (Phone, Contacts, SMS, Alarm, Calendar, Email, Web, Where am I, Apps and Settings) that have been specially designed for the blind and visually impaired. They all have a simplified interface whose textual information is spoken using Nuance Vocalizer® voice synthesis.
A screen reader that allows users to get out of the suite and navigate the standard interface of their phone.

“Mobile Accessibility provides both access to the mainstream apps of the phone and access to special apps for blind people. Why? Because our philosophy has always been to allow our users to use the phone the same way as everyone else. However, we also believe that having some special apps for the most common tasks can be extremely useful if it means gaining in productivity,” added Eduard Sánchez.

The major features of Mobile Accessibility are the following:

Touch navigation: You can use Mobile Accessibility not only with the trackball or the physical keyboard of your phone, but also with its touchscreen! Simply move your finger around the screen and the voice synthesis will read the text located under your finger. Or if you prefer, you can also swipe up/down/right/left and tap on the screen to navigate through the interface. And if you wish you can enable sound and vibration feedback.
Easy to input text: In or outside the Mobile Accessibility suite you can use the touch QWERTY keyboard as well as the speech recognition to write text quickly and easily. Imagine writing an SMS or an Email using your voice only.
Voice synthesis: Code Factory has been making mobile phones accessible to the blind and visually impaired for many years now, and they know that the voice matters… and a lot! For Mobile Accessibility, Code Factory has partnered with Nuance® to leverage its trusted Vocalizer text-to-speech technology, providing consumers with natural sounding voice readback. 

“With around 314 million visually impaired persons around the world, we believe that it’s our joint obligation to facilitate access to information and mobile communication to everyone” says Arnd Weil, VP & General Manager Automotive / Consumer Electronics, Nuance Communications. “By offering screen reader functionality for Android phones using Nuance Vocalizer, Code Factory gives blind and visually impaired persons access to one of the most important mobile platforms with the market’s most natural sounding and intelligible voices.”

Inside the Mobile Accessibility suite of accessible applications you can do the following:

Phone: Make calls, answer calls, hear the caller ID and manage your call log.
Contacts: Manage your contacts, even those from social networks such as Facebook. 
SMS: Compose and read short messages. Manage conversations.
Alarms: Set your alarms.
Web: Full web browser experience, similar to what you can find on your PC. Jump by the control of your choice (links, paragraphs, headings, forms, etc.) to navigate faster to the information of your interest. Bookmark your favourite webpages.
Calendar: Create, edit and delete a calendar entry. View all events per day, week or month.
Email: Full access to your Gmail account
Where am I? : GPS application that gives you updates on your current location.
Settings: Change ringtone. Configure feedback and notifications (vibration or audio). Configure keyboard echo, punctuation verbosity, speech pitch and rate, etc.
Quick access to date and time, phone status information such as battery level and network coverage, number of missed calls and unread messages, etc.

To hear Mobile Accessibility in action listen to videos and audio demos at http://www.codefactory.es/en/products.asp?id=415#video

Mobile Accessibility supports all Android phones from version 2.1 and above. Please note that voice recognition is only supported with version 2.2 and above. Note also that if you want to use the screen reader functionality of Mobile Accessibility you will need a phone with physical navigational controls such as a trackball or trackpad. You can find more information about Android phones at http://www.google.com/phone/#manufacturer=all&category=all&carrier=all&country=all&reset_filters=1

At the time of this release Mobile Accessibility is only available in English, but soon Code Factory will release other versions of Mobile Accessibility for Spanish, Italian, German, French and Portuguese. Note that Mobile Accessibility doesn’t support multiple languages at one time. If you buy the English version of Mobile Accessibility you will not be able to use it in another language like French or Spanish. There will be a specific version of Mobile Accessibility for each language and each version will have to be purchased separately.

You can now get a Mobile Accessibility Demo from the Android Market and try the product for free for 30 days:

Mobile Accessibility Demo US: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizerenudemo&feature=search_result
Mobile Accessibility Demo UK: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizerengdemo&feature=search_result

Soon Mobile Accessibility will be available for purchase through the Android Market at the price of 69 EUROS. You can purchase the application directly from the Market application of your Android phone, or from the web page https://market.android.com . Before buying the app make sure to check out our website at http://www.codefactory.es/en/products.asp?id=415 to see what carriers offer the product for free to their customers.

To learn how to use Mobile Accessibility for Android, please consult the user guide at http://www.codefactory.es/MA/en/ma_1_0_manual.html. For technical assistance, please submit a ticket through Code Factory’s Help Desk at http://www.codefactory.cat/helpdesk/.

For more information about Mobile Accessibility and Code Factory subscribe to the Mobile Accessibility mailing list at http://www.codefactory.es/en/list.asp?id=88, visit our website at http://www.codefactory.es or follow the company on Twitter at http://twitter.com/codefactory and use the hashtag #MA to talk about Mobile Accessibility.

About Code Factory 
Founded in 1998 and headquartered in Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain, Code Factory is the global leader committed to the development of products designed to eliminate barriers to the accessibility of mobile technology for the blind and visually impaired. Today, Code Factory is the leading provider of accessible mobile applications such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, and Braille interfaces. Code Factory’s products are compatible with the widest range of mainstream mobile devices running on Symbian, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry Smartphones, and Android. Among Code Factory’s customers are well known organizations for the blind such as ONCE in Spain, and carriers such as AT&T, Bouygues Telecom, SFR, TIM and Vodafone.

About Nuance Communications, Inc.
Nuance is a leading provider of speech and imaging solutions for businesses and consumers around the world. Its technologies, applications and services make the user experience more compelling by transforming the way people interact with information and how they create, share and use documents. Every day, millions of users and thousands of businesses experience Nuance’s proven applications and professional services. For more information, please visit: nuance.com.

 

For more information, feel free to contact Code Factory S.L.:

Code Factory, S.L., Rambla d’Egara 148 2-2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona)
HelpDesk, www.codefactory.es
Code Factory, S.L. – 2011

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President signs pedestrian safety enhancement act


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

CONTACT:

Chris Danielsen

Director of Public Relations

National Federation of the Blind

(410) 659-9314, extension 2330

(410) 262-1281 (Cell)

cdanielsen@nfb.org

 

President Signs Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act
Washington, D.C. (January 5, 2011): The National Federation of the Blind today commended President Barrack Obama for signing into law the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (S. 841), which will protect the blind and other pedestrians from injury as a result of silent vehicle technology.

“The National Federation of the Blind is pleased that this critical legislation has been signed into law, preserving the right to safe and independent travel for the blind,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind.  “The blind, like all pedestrians, must be able to travel to work, to school, to church, and to other places in our communities, and we must be able to hear vehicles in order to do so.  This law, which is the result of collaboration among blind Americans, automobile manufacturers, and legislators, will benefit all pedestrians for generations to come as new vehicle technologies become more prevalent.  We look forward to working with the Department of Transportation throughout the regulatory process.”

Because blind pedestrians cannot locate and evaluate traffic using their vision, they must listen to traffic to discern its speed, direction, and other attributes in order to travel safely and independently.  Other people, including pedestrians who are not blind, bicyclists, runners, and small children, also benefit from hearing the sound of vehicle engines.  New vehicles that employ hybrid or electric engine technology can be silent, rendering them extremely dangerous in situations where vehicles and pedestrians come into proximity with each other.

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