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

The Fashionability Channel waves goodbye to the old home, and invites you to the new!


Happy New Year! A long break has resulted in a big announcement about Fashionability…we’ve moved! In addition to setting up shop on our own web site, we have now established our own podcast feed. This means we will be discontinuing Fashionability on the AudioBoom platform, as well as the old iTunes feed. After you listen to our farewell episode, linked below, follow the instructions to unsubscribe from the channel on AudioBoom, and resubscribe to the new feed, either via our new web site, or through our new iTunes link.

Listen to our final podcast on AudioBoom here:

http://tinyurl.com/zf8mb56

Unfamiliar with Fashionability? The Fashionability Channel is your guide to accessible style. Finally, style within reach…of everyone!

Join Emily, Laura, and channel contributors…the innovators, influencers, and inspirational people who love to talk all things fashion. Topics include style and trends, beauty, skin care, hair care, health and fitness, jewelry and accessories, and much more, in an audio podcast that is inclusive of everyone. Fashion can be fun, a creative outlet, a shared experience, and a form of self-expression. No matter your gender, body type, age or ability, you’ll learn ways to make a spectacular style statement all your own. You’ll hear interviews with industry professionals, tips, tutorials, and discussion topics on everything from attitudes about disability, barriers to shopping, inaccessible product packaging, and how the needs of people who have disabilities are addressed in the fashion industry. We will also be covering different organizations an charities who specifically develop services, resources and products for people with disabilities to access fashion, style and cosmetics. We want to create a forum where we can encourage listeners to develop their own sense of style, and to break away from the misconceptions surrounding disability.

Founded by UK fashion blogger Emily Davison [@DavisonEm] writer of fashioneyesta.com and US Entrepreneur Laura Legendary, owner and designer of Elegant Insights Braille Creations [@ElegantInsights[, our mission is to empower consumers with relevant fashion information, and to provide creative tools and useful advice for listeners from all walks of life. We want to bridge the gap between the fashion industry and people with disabilities, and to affect change so that people with disabilities are better represented in print and digital media. Welcome to The Fashionability Channel!

New web site: http://www.fashionabilitychannel.com
New podcast feed URL: http://www.fashionabilitychannel.com/feed/podcast/
New iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-fashionability-channel/id1076782532
Write to us! fashionabilitychannel@gmail.com

There is already a post awaiting you at the new location, so please resubscribe soon! We can’t wait to welcome you!

LL

New audio channel makes fashion accessible for people with disabilities


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Laura Legendary
Co-founder, Fashionability
USA: (509) 264-2588
l.legendary@elegantinsightsjewelry.com
Emily Davison
Co-founder, Fashionability
UK: (+44) 7541858610
UK: (020) 85164981
fashioneyesta@gmail.com

New audio channel makes fashion accessible for people with disabilities

September 19, 2014 – In a partnership dedicated to making information about fashion accessible to people who have disabilities, Emily Davison and Laura Legendary have created Fashionability, a social media franchise consisting of an audio channel on the Audioboo platform, a Facebook group and page, a Twitter account, and a blog and RSS feed. Davison, blogger on the Fashioneyesta.com blog based in the UK, and Legendary, designer and owner of Elegant Insights Braille Creations, based in the US, joined forces in a very stylish collaboration to create an audio guide to accessible style.

The Fashionability channel aims to cover many aspects of fashion and beauty, jewelry and accessories, health and fitness, to provide tips and education, as well as to raise awareness about representation of people with disabilities in the media. “I have been campaigning with a team of dedicated individuals with the organization Models of Diversity to target fashion brands to add models with disabilities to their advertising campaigns.” Says Davison. “there is the fundamental fact that people with disabilities are not equally represented in the fashion advertising industry. This immediately creates problems for people with disabilities as it shows society that disability is not considered to be relevant to fashion and thus all these unfair stereotypes occur.”

Content on the Fashionability channel will also be provided by guest contributors, people with disabilities who are subject matter experts in a variety of fashion-related topics. One such contributor is the organization Living Paintings, www.livingpaintings.org, based in the UK.

The Fashionability channel is set to launch on September 19, 2014, and will be available via RSS feed and in the Lifestyles category on Audioboo, www.audioboo.fm. Plans are also in the works for text transcripts of the audio programming, which will be made available on the Fashionability blog. “The Fashionability brand will focus on accessibility and inclusion,” says Legendary. “When most people think of fashion, or more broadly, style, they may think of it only in terms of a visual medium. The lack of accessible information suggests that people with disabilities are somehow less interested in looking and feeling their best. I hope that, with the help of Emily and our contributors, we can create a resource inclusive of all walks of life, all ages, all socio-economic strata, all body types and all abilities. I want to provide sensible, approachable, fashion and style information that is within reach…of everyone.” For more information, send email to fashionabilitychannel@gmail.com. Visit the Fashionability Channel at http://www.audioboo.fm/channel/fashionability

###

About Emily Davison: Emily Davison is a UK based writer, disability campaigner, and journalist who currently writes about fashion on her blog fashioneyesta.com which she founded in July 2012-a blog created to enable people with sight loss to access fashion and cosmetics.

About Laura Legendary: Laura Legendary is a speaker, author, and educator, specializing in disability awareness, advocacy, accessibility, and assistive technology. She is also the owner and designer of Elegant Insights Braille Creations, a distinctive collection of jewelry and accessories, made in the USA, and embossed in Braille. Visit www.elegantinsightsjewelry.com. To read Laura’s blog, go to Accessible Insights Blog at www.accessibleinsights.info/blog.

A very stylish partnership to launch a guide to accessible style


At the end of last year, I began working on my marketing plan for 2014, intent on growing my small business, Elegant Insights Braille Creations, (@ElegantInsights). I had a long list of ideas I hoped to execute, and one of them was a plan to offer some sort of adjunct to the current web site, providing greater access to information about fashion and style for consumers who have a disability. My original thought was to expand the Elegant Insights Audioboo account by creating a channel on the Audioboo platform, not unlike that of the Blind Abilities channel. My hope was to invite contributors to add their expertise in other areas of fashion, such as hair care, cosmetics, career wear, skin care, and tips on fitness and nutrition, shopping, grooming, and how-to-wear new styles and trends. Of course, I am not a subject matter expert here, but I know others who are, and I thought about a list of possible content contributors I wanted to invite to join the channel.

Unfortunately, I lacked the cooperation of an important player, Audioboo. They wanted what I considered to be a prohibitive fee per month to establish the channel, and unless I was able to find a sponsor, I wasn’t sure if I could pull this off. Further, I wanted to do some additional market research, to learn what potential listeners of my channel might feel was missing from the accessible fashion landscape.

To that end, I created a survey, which I just called the “accessibility of style,” and began to send it around to people on my various Twitter lists. Then, I expanded the survey to include other followers on Facebook, then sent it around to a variety of mail list servs and newsletters.

The response was amazing. The number of respondents quickly overwhelmed the limits imposed by my no-cost plan with Survey Monkey, so a half-dozen different surveys were circulated at once, until one hit the respondent limit and another link had to be generated.

No statistician or marketing guru I, the survey was a simple, unscientific, ten-question affair for the purpose of helping me to determine how I might better serve the blind and otherwise disabled communities. The survey consisted of a few demographics questions, a few general questions about personal style, and a few questions about some of the barriers that may prevent access to current style and fashion information. The final question was an essay-style question, and I was very surprised by the length, depth, and scope of the responses. Almost to a person, an outpouring of relevant data was generously supplied as to what a respondent wanted to see to improve access to fashion and style, for both men and women. I was floored.

It has taken some months, but I am delighted to announce the launch of my latest project, a very stylish collaboration with Emily Davison, (@DavisonEm). Davison is the founder of a blog entitled Fashioneyesta, at www.fashioneyesta.com. For my screen reader users, that is spelled with an e y e s t a, instead of the typical spelling, fashionista. I had been following Emily on Audioboo for some time, and was impressed by her approachability, her passion for her topic, her experience in the fashion industry, her connections to fashion and style-related charities, and her work ethic. I approached Emily with the idea, and she was extremely enthusiastic.

Our first order of business was to decide what sort of audio offering to create. We both wanted to explore setting up an Audioboo channel, as a large blind community was already using the platform. However, we did not relish paying the $50 per month premium. We believed so strongly in the idea of serving the disability community, and creating a community channel, that we decided to campaign Audioboo for assistance. Audioboo permitted us a free regular account, providing some extra recording time, as a way to establish our brand and to build an audience. Reluctantly, we agreed to this compromise, although we really wanted a full-blown channel. Persistence paid off. Just a few days ago, we were notified that we had been granted a full channel.

Our new venture is called Fashionability. Think of it as a guide to accessible style. We plan to cover a great deal of ground as we explore many aspects of the fashion world, all with an eye on inclusion. We have some fabulous contributors lined up for interviews and special information segments, topics suitable for people of all shapes and sizes, the trendsetters and the clueless, from all walks of life, inclusive of all disabilities, and for both men and women. We hope you join Emily and I in this exciting new venture. We plan to launch next week, as London Fashion Week begins. Coming in the next few days, I will post an interview with Emily, as well as a post that will include the official press release.

Here are all the requisite social links:

The Fashionability Channel: Your guide to accessible style.

https://audioboo.fm/channel/fashionability

Follow us on Twitter @InclusiveStyle

Find us on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/fashionabilitychannel

Check out Emily’s Fashioneyesta posts on Audioboo:

http://audioboo.fm/fashioneyesta

Don’t forget about the Elegant Insights “audioboo-tique” at:

http://www.audioboo.fm/ElegantInsights

Finally, thank you so much for your response to my survey on accessible style, if you submitted one. Your thoughts were such an inspiration, and I hope that we can provide some much needed access to information for a better quality of life for everyone. Please tell your friends about Fashionability, and stay tuned for more news and launch updates.

As ever, your servant, LL

Boo! Come on, you know you want to. Check out Audioboo, an audio sharing platform


What on Earth is Audioboo? Audioboo is a sharing platform that allows users to record and post audio on the fly, from anywhere, using just about any device. Individuals from morning deejays, and random deejay wannabees, to big companies like The Guardian, use Audioboo to post and share their content. you can follow your favorites to hear short installments of audio “boos,” as they are called. The service is free to use for everyone, as long as you are willing to limit the length of your recordings to 3 minutes. If you need more time, you can pay for a monthly subscription, and get 30 minutes per recording. As you browse the site, you can read the show notes and profile info of the person who recorded the boo, and you can subscribe to, or follow, their offerings.

You can also download an app for your IOS device. The original app, simply called Audioboo, can be downloaded from the Apple app store. There is another version of the app, meant to be an update, called Audioboo2, which you will also find in the app store. There seems to be only superficial differences between the two apps, and of the two, I prefer the original, since it seems slightly more straightforward. I have no idea, however, how long Audioboo plans to continue to support the original app.

For my small business, Elegant Insights Braille Creations, (@ElegantInsights), I plan to use Audioboo as a sort of audio catalog. I will provide company news, product descriptions, style tips and vision-related convention and events news. You can follow my boos here:

http://www.audioboo.fm/ElegantInsights

Here’s another fun tip: Do you like to listen to podcasts? If you have an Apple device and like to download and listen to favorite podcasts using Downcast or another podcatcher, you can hear the Elegant Insights Audio catalog, or any of your favorites, as a podcast! In fact, if you are reading this on your Apple device right now, just tap on this link:

http://audioboo.fm/users/1248733/boos.rss

and your favorite podcatcher should recognize the feed URL, open, and subscribe you automatically. Now, whenever I publish a new recording, it will automatically download into your device along with your other podcasts. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Audioboo provides the RSS feed URL, as well as the URL to the user profile page for users who want to follow their favorites on multiple device types and platforms.

If you don’t have an Apple device, and none of the above appeals to you, fret not. you won’t be left out. I’ve attached the Audioboo account to Twitter, so if you follow me @ElegantInsights on Twitter, you’ll see the tweets with the link to the recording in your Twitterstream. Just click the link, and you can hear me right from Twitter. You can also share your boos on Facebook. Audioboo currently does not support FB business pages, but you can attach your own audioboos to your FB profile page for your family and friends.

Randy Rusnak, (@thebigr), long-time audio engineer, co-host and producer of the Accessible Devices podcast (www.accessibledevices.com), has used Audioboo for years. Randy is certified by the State of Minnesota as a technology instructor, and he uses Audioboo to augment his podcasts by offering short tips and reviews of a variety of assistive technologies.

Recently, he posted a terrific boo in counterpoint to the excellent “Siri vs. Google voice” showdown as published by Applevis. You can hear the Applevis podcast here:
http://www.applevis.com/podcast/episodes/siri-versus-google-voice-search-which-better

and then listen to Randy’s satirical version here:

http://t.co/7LnR7C5V82

You can follow Randy’s boos by going here:

http://www.audioboo.fm/thebigr and click follow.

While Audioboo has been around for several years, I only recently became aware of it when I spotted Randy’s uploads on Twitter. Then, I read an article about Audioboo recently published in the Sacramento Bee, describing how Audioboo is rapidly becoming a social platform of choice amongst the blind and visually impaired community. Read it here:

http://is.gd/R6I1zm

A great feature of Audioboo is that you can not only publish to a group of followers, but you can send private direct messages as well. Uploading a recording is easiest when done using an Apple device, but you can record and upload directly on the Audioboo web site. The apss and web site are accessible and support Voice Over on your IOS device.

Hope to hear from you soon!

LL

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