Tools of choice in the fight for equal access: sledgehammer vs. constructive engagement


Amongst the many topics listed in my open file of future articles and other writing projects, you would not find the topic about which I am writing today. In fact, even if I was forced to augment the list by including unsavory subject matter such as disabled abuse or institutionalization, I would have avoided adding this topic. Not because I have nothing to say on the matter, but because I’m not so sure I can express myself in a way that is logical and articulate. It seems that the more removed a topic from my personal feelings, the more easily I am able to make a point. Yet, when it’s time for me to write about a topic which is philosophical, and may differ from the opinions of others, I veer off into the land of couching and justifications. Unlike so many who can write using language learned from having been steeped in academia, I have not learned the glib rejection of an argument as illogical, nor have I developed the thick skin necessary to take criticism of my core beliefs and shake it off. As a result, the final version of this post is likely to be a well watered-down version of the original draft. In a way, that’s a real shame, but I try to resist editorializing here, even though that is one purpose of this platform. The problem is, I’m a listener, and a thinker, not an arguer. It isn’t that I stand for nothing, it’s that I’m willing to take into consideration another viewpoint, which may make my own arguments appear weaker.

The day I began this post was a very interesting one for me. I found myself in discussions (or, more accurately, debates), with fellow persons who are blind, who might well have considered themselves to be intellectually or morally authoritative. These are people with whom one can win no argument, as there is no winning, there is only debate for the sport of it. Gratuitous argument is not my way. I love a spirited debate as much as the next person, but only if the exchange is not conducted at the expense of another’s dignity. One learns in marriage, for example, that going straight for the jugular, seeking to crush the spouse as though they are the enemy, reducing the partner by way of condescension and contempt is a fast track to marital dissolution. This, for the academics in my audience who would demand a source, is from Dr Gottman’s research at his Relationship Institute. Dr. John Gottman is the nation’s foremost researcher in marriage and parenting. He often refers to contempt as one of the “four horseman of the apocalypse” when it comes to argument. Admittedly, this is in reference to marriage, and not meant as one of the tools of successful intellectual debate, but I haven’t taken debate class since high school, so I may be at a disadvantage.

What does any of this have to do with a blog about accessibility? Everything, if you follow some of the important issues that affect people with disabilities every day. Within the disability community, there is an ongoing disagreement as to the nature of the techniques that should be used as a way to enforce compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I found myself unexpectedly involved in such a debate, and just as unexpectedly feeling dissatisfied with the substance of that debate. It’s not that I maintained an opposing viewpoint, rather, it’s that I found that I was in fact, not agreeing strongly enough to suit the people with whom I was having that debate. Wow…I’ve never thought of myself as not feeling something strongly enough before. Typically, I’m advised to adopt a less reactionary position.

As is so often the case when we fall into the trap of the ease with which to express an opinion in 140 characters, remarks can tend to be more pointed than they might otherwise be, given more digital real estate. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is also the soul of insult and offense.

On May 14th, 2013, there was a full committee hearing on disability and accessible media, called The ADA and Entertainment Technologies: Improving Accessibility from the Movie Screen to Your Mobile Device. The hearing was streamed live. I watched the hearing with great interest, and commented via Twitter as I did so, while encouraging others to watch as well. I found the panel members to be articulate and reasoned in their comments, and I felt that the disability community was well represented by these advocates. The discussion that resulted on Twitter, however, and other discussion held offline, made me realize that I may need to examine my views about advocacy and the methods we use to gain equal access to the world.

Unwilling to go so far as to say, “one attracts more flies with honey,” I will say that my advocacy style has been one of constructive engagement, rather than one that requires use of a sledgehammer. That is not to say I do not own a sledgehammer, or that I see no value in using one, or that there is no place for a sledgehammer in one’s blunt-instrument drawer. Nor do I make any judgements about those who choose to use a hammer, the judicious use of which is admirable.

There is a long history of disagreement in the disability community regarding the best way to fight for equal access. Some believe that forcible compliance through litigation is the only way, since voluntary compliance is practically unheard of. Even with the passage of the ADA in 1990, the consensus in the community seems to be that progress has been slow, and that change has been affected only by way of threat of ruination through legal action. A friend with whom I found myself “debating” pointed out that there are no web site owners, none, who voluntarily comply with accessibility. I was incensed. “That’s ridiculous.” I said. “Name one,” he shot back. I couldn’t.

Surely, I thought, there is a company out there who voluntarily designed their web site to be accessible to people who have disabilities. “Not without the threat of a lawsuit, there isn’t.” My friend commented. “They wouldn’t bother if the law didn’t require it.”

“So, what are you saying?” I demanded. “The only way to have equal access is to hit people over the head with a hammer? what if they don’t know? Isn’t that what raising awareness is all about?”

With the unhurried pace of a predator toying with his prey, my friend said, “Amazon is aware. So are all the big players. But they don’t do anything about it until they have to. Being nice, writing letters, saying ‘pretty please’ has gotten us nowhere. It’s been twenty years.”

“But…but…there’s been progress,” I protested. “It’s a process. We can’t fix everything overnight. What about education? what about winning hearts and minds? Getting people on our side?” I felt my argument losing strength. Partially because at the center of his comment was an implicit accusation that my work is worthless, that I, and others like me, have proved to be a failure, and that all the awareness-raising in the world has not made a bit of difference. In fact, the words “sitting around and singing Kum Ba Yah,” came out of his mouth. Okay, minus 1 point for lack of originality.

He went on to point out a few interesting facts, which I will not bore you with here. I do want to point you to a couple of links from which to gather some statistics, should you ever need to do some research, cite a source, craft an argument. Keep in mind, though, the old joke that goes, “only lawyers and painters can change black to white.” Same goes for statistics. I think, though, that the Justice Department and the United Nations are at least somewhat reliable, so check out these links:

U. S. Department of Justice Accessibility report:

http://www.justice.gov/crt/508/report/content.php

United Nations Convention on Human Rights and Disability:

http://is.gd/PmlPrU

Ultimately, the question is one of approach. Do we begin to make changes by applying the least intrusive, education-oriented techniques, and only bring out the hammer as a last resort? This negotiated approach can sometimes take years to affect change, as is the case with businesses to which I have personally contacted. Sometimes, the response has been a sympathetic but impotent, “we’re so sorry, but we’re working on it, stay tuned” sort of response, other times it has been to placate me and then utterly ignore my complaint. There have been more than a few times, however, when I have been contacted by someone in the corporate hierarchy, who asked me for help right then and there, to find ways to make changes immediately. One company actually labeled a button within a few minutes of my request. Granted, all I wanted was an alt-tag, which took seconds to add, but they did it right away, then asked me to do some quick testing. Now, that’s responsive. No hammer required.

What about the small business, though, an ecommerce site that serves to be the only contact point for consumers, where the site developer was most likely the business owner’s college-age kid? He certainly cannot afford to hire an accessibility remediation expert, even if he was made aware of the web site usability shortcomings. I’ll just go out on a limb and use myself as an example here. I may regret this, but here I go.

I have a number of web properties, all of which fall into the pathetically inadequate, not one-hundred percent accessible column. Why? Because when I put the sites together, I didn’t know enough about programming to know what to ask for with regard to access, and while I was able to impart a certain amount of education as to alt-tags and headers, I quickly reached the limit of what to instruct my employee to do. Now, I’m in the awkward position of advocating for web accessibility when my own sites are barely navigable at best. As a small business owner, I lack the funds to hire someone to rebuild the sites with say, html5. What is this type of business owner to do?

One question I have to ask is, what is the real point of direct legal action? In my opinion, it should be more about making change, and less about pecuniary interest. Instead of merely filling the coffers of an advocacy organization, why not make those funds available for remediation assistance? That way, businesses who want to comply, yet lack the skills, or resources, can tap into these funds. That way, we can accomplish two things at once.

Back to the argument in favor of the hammer for a moment. In late 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) released a Report and Order implementing provisions of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (“CVAA”) to ensure that people with disabilities have access to advanced communications services (“ACS”). Providers of ACS and manufacturers of equipment used for ACS will be required to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities, unless it is not “achievable” to do so. Failure to comply results in fines of up to $100,000 per violation, or each day of a continuing violation up to a maximum of $1 million. Obviously, this is meant to be extremely punitive, and while I concede that this requirement is likely to affect only large companies, and that there appears to be a bit of wiggle room here, thanks to the use of the term “achievable,” one wonders if the only beneficiaries will be the lawyers and bureaucrats involved in the documentation, certification, and enforcement rules.

My concern about this type of action is that while it may force compliance, it may also create catastrophic hardship for a business that is unable to bear the cost, put established businesses in peril, and further solidify negative attitudes towards people with disabilities and the organizations that represent us as tyrannical or heavy-handed. Yet, perception seems to be the last concern of the advocates in favor of the hammer. Why does it matter what any company thinks of people with disabilities, it’s the law of the land. Comply, or you will be forced to do so.

What is problematic for me with regard to this type of thinking is that one thing we cannot legislate is the attitudinal barriers we must overcome as a result of systemic discrimination. Once the hammer falls, and the business has been litigated into compliance, there is no room left for goodwill. In the world in which I choose to live, I need there to exist compassion, forgiveness, and goodwill. For others, though, goodwill has no place in the framework of this argument.

I’ve built a career speaking to audiences about disability awareness and the need for equal access. I can tell you from personal experience that there is a line that can be crossed, no matter how justified your argument may be, where the group whom you are attempting to convince simply will cease to listen. Once we alienate others by shoving our views down their throat, they may do what they are required to do to make the noise go away, but they won’t like it, and there may be unintended consequences that we may suffer as a result. If you look at the civil rights movement as an example, African Americans are still fighting to overcome discrimination, despite gaining equal access over 40 years ago. What that tells me is that we have an attitudinal problem as well as an accessibility problem. Therefore, I believe there is a place for awareness education as well as constructive engagement as part of a negotiated solution.

The day after the Senate hearing and subsequent “debate,” I received a letter from one of the friends with whom I had a heated verbal exchange. He admitted that my compassionate approach had merit, and that he had been thinking about our conversation, and realized that the awareness component should be included as part of an action plan for developers. He wrote:

“I’ve started sketching out a blog piece about a multi-stage approach to web accessibility that begins with a compassionate approach to site publishers. I agree that we first need to educate. It would probably be good if the highly visible advocacy organizations who are rightfully pushing for accessibility also offered remediation steps on their web sites.

For most web sites, accessibility can be done pretty easily by a novice to both accessibility and web development. From googling around, I could find a number of web validation and repair tools. Some of these are no cost and I’ve no idea how to judge which are good and which aren’t. Nonetheless, NFB, ACB and AFB, as far as I can tell, have nothing on their web sites giving a basic set of steps for a person to try to do their own remediation. I could envision a tutorial for individuals, small businesses, mid-sized and even enormous sites. It should include links to the standards and guidelines but not be filled with the sort of jargon that goes into such things. I guess, I’m admitting that you were more right than I thought yesterday. During our conversation, I added the constructive engagement to my set of steps for approaching web developers; today, I’ve added your awareness component.”

My friend went on to point out that if there was a simple English set of steps for web site remediation, something that anyone who uses WordPress could follow, more of the non-technical site owners would do it. He also wrote:

“I also think that our web consultant friends do the community a disservice. I don’t begrudge them their big hourly rates but I think they intentionally try to maintain a level of mystery surrounding the topic so they can maintain their guru status. None of them has a page on their sites saying, most people cannot afford our services and we work for wealthy businesses with very complicated needs. You, however, can probably do your own site remediation if you follow these simple steps: 1. For WordPress, 2. For Drupal, 3. For Joomla, etc. I think this is the dirty little secret of web accessibility, it’s relatively easy. Obviously, for it to be easy to the gal on the street, though, it needs easy documentation, something that my searches did not find.”

Finally, my friend wrote: “So, yes, awareness is probably even more important than legislation and should certainly come sooner in the process than filing complaints or taking direct legal action through a suit,” he concluded.

Great. One down, six billion to go.

The irony here is that my use of constructive engagement with regard to this conversation netted a fought-for result. This proved to be the case on Twitter as well, when an exchange began with, “hammer all the way,” and finally concluded, 18 direct messages later, with “constructive engagement is the only way.” Maybe mine is a velvet hammer.

To see a replay of the Senate hearing, go here:
http://tinyurl.com/aqf5dm4

For your own edification, here is a link to a timeline of disability rights by Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_disability_rights_in_the_United_States

LL

Blogging Against Disablism 2013: The Adversity of Anything


I was sitting across the desk from my high-school advisor, who was officiously scrutinizing the completed applications I intended to submit to the universities of my choice. She sat back, and, peering at me over her horn-rimmed, half glasses, she announced, “You may as well go to the local community college, and not bother with this. From where I sit, Miss…uh,.” she paused, distractedly shuffling through papers, trying to find my name, then continued: “Laura, is it? Because I doubt you’ll ever amount to…anything.”

Later, while attending the four-year university of my choice, and thinking ahead as to my career, I aggressively sought full-time, gainful employment. Overcoming the barriers imposed by small minds required a patience I didn’t know I possessed. Sitting in the office of a potential employer, I was asked, “Come on, now. What can you people really do? if you can’t see, how can you really do…anything?”

After being invited to speak at my City Hall to a group of officials conducting a workshop on community access, the meeting facilitator briefly interviewed each speaker as to their credentials, for the benefit of the attendees. As the only speaker on the panel who was disabled, I was advocating for reasonable accommodations as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each speaker was asked about their vocation and qualifications. Upon turning to me, she said, “And what is it that you like to do with your time, dear? What is it that you do for work? Or, do you do anything?”

Sometimes, when we hear stories of people who have overcome adversity, we hear tales of epic struggles, like those we see in movies. Much of the time, though, what stands in our way can be subtler, not so much a battle as a series of slights, or the persistent pressure we might experience through chronic adverse circumstances, such as poverty or isolation. To overcome the adversity of anything, you need to know your strengths, identify allies, seek out heroes and be open to the idea that you are your best advocate.

Identify your strongest supporters. you may be disheartened to realize that this may not include family, or even close friends. While this can be devastating to anyone seeking self-sufficiency, keep in mind that your loved one’s lack of support may be due to reasons that have less to do with you or your decision to become independent. Sometimes, we become so deeply entrenched in our expected roles, especially in families or close relationships, that when we make changes, this can inadvertently cause the role of the other person to become redefined. If, for example, your spouse or loved one has become accustomed to managing certain aspects of your life, she may feel she is fulfilling a purpose. One friend confided in me, after deciding to move from the East coast to the West coast that his mother wailed, “Now, what am I supposed to do?” Sometimes, we find out the hard way that our families are not our best support system. If this is the case for you, then find support elsewhere. Seek out friends, peer counseling, outreach services, a like-minded online social network.

Find the people who are doing what you want to do, and contact them directly to learn how they overcame barriers. Don’t be intimidated. If you are rejected or dismissed, realize that is not the kind of person you want to emulate, and any advice they would offer would only be tainted by their ego, and not offered generously in the spirit of elevating others. Try to keep in mind, though, that not everyone wants to be the “poster child” for disability, and that their non-responsiveness may be due to the fact that they, too, are still finding their own way forward. Once, I wrote to a high profile entrepreneur who dominated his industry, and who shared my particular form of vision loss. Since I admired this person a great deal, I not only wrote to him, but attempted to meet with him in hope of learning how he had conquered the attitudinal barriers I knew he faced everyday, and a further hope that he might offer some sage advice. Unfortunately, I never heard a word from him, and I was deeply disappointed. Later, I learned that he carefully guarded his public persona, to the degree that he micro-managed the means by which he interacted with people, to the point that he insisted he never be seen using a white cane, and that he was always seated or situated in place first in any meeting conditions, so that he should never appear weak or disadvantaged in any way.

Consider disability-specific education or retraining. When it became necessary for me to begin using a white cane, my department of services for the blind vocational rehabilitation counselor insisted I attend a school for blind adults. at first, I refused. I was strongly independent, and in my opinion, attending a school for the blind would only define me as a person who was blind, a label I desperately wished to avoid. It took quite a bit of convincing before I agreed to go. I won’t go so far as to say I arrived kicking and screaming, but I was not exactly willing to embrace the situation. My attendance at the school for the blind completely changed my life. It is where I learned my love of advocacy, it was the genesis of my passion for educating others. It is where I learned the meaning of dignity and what it means to ascend to meet your circumstances. I expected to learn Braille, independent living and cane mobility skills. but it was what I had not expected to learn, from which I benefited the most.

Overcoming adversity doesn’t always mean that the barriers are external. Sometimes, it is the inner conflict, our personal narrative, playing on the endless loop of our subconscious, that holds us back. Those private, negative messages may have begun early in childhood, through social conditioning, parental expectations, or catalytic events. If it were true that time heals all wounds, then psychologists’ offices wouldn’t be filled with adults seeking to heal childhood hurts. Our jails wouldn’t be filled with precious human beings who couldn’t find a productive way to cope with their circumstances and manage their lives. Social media wouldn’t be a labyrinth of nonexistent personas desperately seeking to manifest the celebrity, excitement, success, or attention that is missing from their real lives. It is when we permit ourselves to be defined by the external that we are weakened, because we are then vulnerable to the vicissitudes of opinion. It is perhaps the greatest struggle in our lives that we must find out who we are, and live our lives on our own terms, with our own sense of purpose. It is only then that you will be able to overcome the adversity of anything.

About the author: Laura Legendary is a speaker, author, and educator specializing in disability awareness, accessibility, advocacy, and assistive technology. Learn more at her flagship site, Eloquent Insights, www.eloquentinsights.com. More recently, Laura has been working on a start-up enterprise, Elegant Insights Braille Creations. To read product descriptions and sign up on the mailing list, go to www.elegantinsightsjewelry.com, or find the Elegant Insights page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Elegant.Insights.

You are welcome to leave a comment or link to your own BADD 2013 submission in the comments section. Please use the accessible contact form on the blog home page if you would like to write to me directly.

Previous BADD posts:

2010: You Don’t Look Blind

http://tinyurl.com/26dam92

2011: It’s on Aisle 5

http://tinyurl.com/d5m9egg

2012: Your Ingenius Life

http://tinyurl.com/cyp36wg

Thanks for reading, and fight on.

LL

Need access to better nutrition? There’s an app for that


Kel Smith, author of the just-released “Digital Outcasts,” and about whom you will soon read more here on the Accessible Insights Blog, has been reaching out to his fans, friends and colleagues in an effort to bring attention to a great cause. Just this morning, Kel sent out information about his project, and I was so eager to get the details to my readers that I asked Kel if I could post excerpted content of his email below. Want to make a real difference in the health and well-being of people with limited access to nutritious food? Read on to find out how.

Kel’s project is called Aisle Won. For screen reader users, note that the spelling is w o n, as opposed to the numeral one. It’s a combination mobile app and outreach program to connect people living in “food deserts” with sources of healthy, affordable food. Kel has been developing this for the past year or so, and just launched the pilot. Now, he is reaching out to folks to help spread the word.

Kel writes: “An estimated 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts and rely on unhealthy sources of nutrition, such as corner bodegas and fast food restaurants. To say that this is a health problem of growing national concern would be an understatement. For people with disabilities who cannot leave their homes, it’s an even greater burden.”

Here’s how it works: shoppers place an order and check a map to see where locally-grown produce is available in their neighborhood. They can maximize purchases according to individual budgetary and dietary needs. They can also peruse recipes that are delicious and easy to prepare. Local urban farms, then, expand their reach into more areas. Everybody wins.

Anikto completely self-funded the first pilot, now being launched in the Clifton Park section of northeast Baltimore. “We have participating support from the Mayor’s Civic Works office and a six-acre plot called Real Food Farm.” Smith says. “To get Aisle Won to the next level, though, I’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Wednesday was the first day and we already gathered 10% of our goal!”

So … if you follow nutrition literacy, are interested in urban farming, or just appreciate the importance of healthy eating — then please go to:

http://igg.me/at/aisle-won/x/3047094 where you’ll see details of the campaign, which will be live for 40 days. Please contribute to this delicious cause!

Connect with Kel:

215.285.2274
Kel.Smith@anikto.com
http://anikto.com
@KelSmith on Twitter
@DigitalOutcasts for info on Kel’s new book.
“Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward Without Leaving People Behind”
http://digital-outcasts.com

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   
 

Blogging Against Disablism Day is May 1st, 2013


It’s time to start thinking about your contribution to the annual, international, “Blogging Against Disablism” day. Each year for the past several years, I’ve submitted an article associated with this event. Blogging Against Disablism Day, or BADD for short, is a way bloggers from around the world raise their voices in a concert of commentary about discrimination, disability, ability, inclusion, employment, trials, triumphs, and what it means to experience life with a disability from a singularly profound point of view…your own.

Write an essay, post it on your blog or web site, and on May 1st, read posts from other bloggers from all over the world who are sharing their stories. First, though, go to the BADD 2013 page and make a comment that you intend to participate. Your article will be linked to, and also tweeted, throughout the day. You can follow @BADDtweets for news and info about the event, and be sure to use hashtag #BADD2013 when you tweet about your post, or RT that of others. Come back here to the Accessible Insights Blog to read my offering, and feel free to link to your own post in the comments section here, too.

Read more about the event here:
http://blobolobolob.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/blogging-against-disablism-day-2013.html

See you May 1st!

LL

Author’s note: As an update to the above, I urge you to go to the BADD page and read the entry. As a result of a Twitter conversation that involved the use of the word “disablism,” I must point out that, in the post describing the event, there is a well-written explanation of the need for ‘linguistic amnesty.” The author makes the point that everyone brings to the table differing values as to effective and inclusive language, some of which may be off-putting or offensive to others. I almost asked permission to quote the text in it’s entirety, because I found it to be so valuable, but I’d rather you go to the BADD post and read it for yourself. it’s important that we do not allow ourselves to get bogged down by one another’s choice of words. I’m not saying it’s trivial, I just think we need to allow for a wide latitude on a day involving submissions from around the world, from places where use of what we might consider to be arcane terms may still be the norm. ~ LL

Help build an inclusive Twittersphere with Easy Chirp 2


For those of you who follow these things, you already know that Twitter (www.twitter.com), the social media micro-blogging platform, is making changes to its Application Programming Interface (API). For those of you who have no idea what that means, or why it’s significant, allow me to get you up to speed.

According to Wikipedia, An application programming interface (API) is a “protocol intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other. An API is a library that may include specification for routines, data structures, object classes, and variables.” If you want to read more, go here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_programming_interface

Twitter has only had a single version of the API in its entire history. Now, they want to make changes, and update to version 1.1. They have announced new developer “rules of the road,” and have outlined the proposed changes here:

https://dev.twitter.com/blog/changes-coming-to-twitter-api

The changes will affect all third-party applications that interact with Twitter, such as those you might use as an accessible alternative to the main Twitter web site. Some of these third-party Twitter clients have already completed the necessary adjustments, while others may not even bother, and may simply disappear. Time is running short, however, because Twitter has announced the “sunset” of version 1.0 of the API here:

https://dev.twitter.com/blog/api-v1-retirement-final-dates

Ever since I first discovered Twitter, I’ve been using the accessible alternative created by Dennis Lembree. Originally called Accessible Twitter, the web-based version now goes by the name Easy Chirp. Due to the changes made by Twitter to the API, Dennis has been forced to reinvent Easy Chirp, soon to be Easy Chirp 2. Dennis needs your help. He has started a kickstarter profile, and needs your pledges. The money raised will be used to compensate the experts Dennis has hired to assist with the project. As usual, when making a contribution to a Kickstarter project, you will receive a thank-you gift commensurate with the amount of your donation. See more info here:

Help build an inclusive Twittersphere: http://tinyurl.com/c9fsj5v

“I created Easy Chirp over four years ago and am touched by the support it’s received from the community. Now it must be rebuilt due to the Twitter API change, and I hope to collaborate this time with a few other developers.” Lembree says.

Dennis plans some new features and additional streamlining to make Easy Chirp 2 even faster and more accessible. It will continue to support keyboard-only users, will work without Javascript, and will be better optimized for mobile devices. Of course, it will still feature the user-friendly interface you’ve come to expect, useable by people who have a variety of disabilities, and who use a variety of assistive technologies.

Says Lembree: “To me, Easy Chirp exemplifies what a web app should be: platform agnostic, accessible, and simple. It provides a unique and necessary service in the social media space.”

There is no shortage of Twitter clients in the market, which can be used with different operating systems and device types. I use Easy Chirp for my own reasons, not the least of which is that I know Dennis, like him, trust him, and appreciate his work. If you have used Easy Chirp in the past, but have never clicked on that “donate” button just below the sign-in link on the Easy Chirp home page, then scrape a few coins out from between the sofa cushions and send them Dennis’s way. We’ll be tweeting at one another again before it’s time to fly south for the winter.

Pledge to the Easy Chirp 2 Kickstarter here:

Http://www.kickstarter.com and perform a search, or go directly to the Easy Chirp 2 project page here: http://tinyurl.com/c9fsj5v

For all things Twitter API, go here:

https://dev.twitter.com/docs/api

You can follow Easy Chirp: @EasyChirp for updates, or you can follow me @Accessible_Info on Twitter as well.

LL

CSUN13: A thank-you note to thousands


Upon arriving home from my short trip to attend the 28th annual International Assistive Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, I discovered that I was struggling with an odd mix of sensations. Fatigue, from the endless walking through an enormous hotel property, late nights, and early mornings. euphoria, from having met what seemed to be a nearly endless parade of people, all of whom, inexplicably, seemed delighted to see me. Excitement, from learning new things, finding fresh inspiration, and meeting new people. Dehydration, from my refusal to pay $3.50 for a bottle of water, at least more than once. Melancholy, from realizing it might be a long time before I can see some of my friends again. Finally, there was gratitude, for all of the people who work hard to put on a conference that proves to be a success year after year.

Thank you to the California State University, Northridge, Center on Disability (@CSUNCOD). While each conference I have attended over the years seems to have had a personality or flavor all its own, the quality of the presenters, topics offered, vendor exhibits and social event schedule has been consistently high.

Thank you to the Manchester Grand Hyatt (@manchGrandHyatt) for providing conference attendees with what surely must be some of the most well trained and customer service oriented staff anywhere. On one day, while being guided from point A to point B, a trip so long it permitted a complete conversation, I learned that the young lady guiding me was not a hotel employee at all, but a volunteer. As it turns out, she is a local resident with a full-time job elsewhere, but volunteers every year at CSUN conference time just to help us get from place to place. Extraordinary.

Thanks also to the sponsors who made some of the social events possible. The general tweetup was hosted by The Paciello Group, WebAIM, Infoaxia, PayPal, The Center on Disabilities at CSUN, EZFire, OpenDirective, and CA Technologies. Accessible media Inc. (@a11ymedia) and SSB BART Group (@SSBBARTGroup) sponsored two of the receptions I attended. I’m sure there were others not known to me. Please let these fine organizations know how much you appreciated their hospitality. Drop a comment below or send them a tweet, or write them a note if you were personally invited.

A special thank you to my roommate, Jennifer Sutton (@jsutt), who generously shared her space so as to make it possible for me to attend. She’s probably hoping for a less chatty roommate next year.

Finally, I’d like to say thank you to the members of the accessibility and disability community who attended the event. Whether you were a vendor showing off your latest and greatest product release, research, or educational support technology, a presenter, or any one of the thousands of my new best friends who flew in to Sand Diego from far-flung places around the globe, I must say it was truly a pleasure spending time with you.

See you next year!

LL

Optelec to announce new product launch at CSUN13


This just hit my desk, and I wanted to get it posted while you are still putting together your CSUN13 schedule.

Optelec invites you to attend this presentation:
Topic: Diagnostic Tool; Hope for Low Vision Patients

Description: There are many reasons low vision patients are turned away. What if there was a simple inexpensive diagnostic tool?

Track: Blind/Low Vision
Session ID: BLV-053

Date: Friday, Mar. 1 @ 1:50 PM PST

Location: Annie AB, 3rd Floor
Presenter:
Rebecca Kammer, OD
Assistant Director of Optometric Education, Associate Professor College of Optometry Western University of Health Sciences.

Check this out, while you’re walking the exhibit hall: Optelec Booth #205
28th Annual CSUN International Technology & Persons
with Disabilities Conference

Exhibit Hall: Feb. 27 – Mar. 1, 2013

This year is different. We have a NEW product release unlike any other. We listened. We tested. We pushed the limits. We set the standards yet again.

Be there to witness low vision industry history in the making for our official worldwide product launch of the NEW….
Special unveil on Wednesday, Feb. 27th at 3:00 PM!
Where: Optelec Booth #205

The product speaks for itself, don’t miss it…
Point & Read to Stay In Touch!

**Plus, visit our Optelec Booth to learn how you can WIN $100 towards your next purchase**

Follow us on Twitter @Optelec with #CSUN13 and Facebook for announcements and photos!

Contact us at 800.826.4200 or marketing@optelec.com to connect at the show or arrange a demo at the booth.

FREE to ATTEND!
Exhibit Hall Schedule
Wednesday, February 27: 12:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Thursday, February 28: 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Friday, March 1: 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM

Optelec U.S. Inc.
800.826.4200 (main), 800.368.4111 (fax)
E: info@optelec.com

www.Optelec.com
See you there!

LL

Online career fair for job-seekers with disabilities March 5th


Have you heard about this year’s Think Beyond the Label Online Career Fair? They will be hosting 4 events this year, and the first one is less than 2 weeks away – Tuesday, March 5 from 1 to 4 pm EST. Employers are registering now for these one-of-a-kind online career fairs to recruit job seekers with disabilities nationwide.

This year’s TBTL Online Career Fairs will again be powered by Brazen Careerist and will connect job seekers with businesses like Pearson, United Therapeutics, and Aetna, who are actively recruiting qualified candidates with disabilities—all without leaving their computer. It will be a great event to meet and chat with businesses who are committed to building a diverse workforce!

There are currently over 150 registered job seekers but more are needed. Please help spread the word about this event so that moore businesses recruit qualified candidates with disabilities now.
For more information or to register, visit the event’s page online – https://www.brazenconnect.com/event/thinkbeyondthelabel_mar_5. For questions or additional information contact Laura Wilhelm at lwilhelm@hdadvocates.org.

LL

Novel approaches to icon-based AAC presented by Karl Wiegand


One can easily argue that few are as keenly interested in the well-being of a person with a disability as is a parent. Expanding from that core of support one can also include siblings, guardians, educators, social workers and health care professionals. One can further include advocates, friends, spouses and co-workers, all of whom are concerned about quality of life. That covers just about everyone, and just about everyone should be in attendance at Karl Wiegand’s presentation at this year’s Conference on Disability, hosted by CSUN.

Mr. Wiegand is presenting some astonishing work in the field of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). His presentation, entitled “Novel Approaches to Icon-Based AAC,” will explore two different methodologies for message construction and input. These two approaches can elevate the quality of communication for a person who has locked in syndrome. “Locked in syndrome” is an umbrella term that describes people who may have paralysis to the degree that the individual is unable to move any major body parts, except for above the neck. Even a person who may be in a full body cast is an example of someone who may have near complete lack of motor function, albeit temporarily.

The choices in alternative and augmentative communication devices now commonly involve the use of mouth sticks, switches or eye gaze input devices that can be cumbersome and fatiguing for the user. The current systems were designed based on an assumption that the user can press a button, make repetitious movements, or is able to maintain movement or body position for extended periods, so as to select letters or short words or phrases from choices on a menu. Using letter-based systems can be time consuming, because a letter-based system is more generative than the icon-based system that some users prefer in face-to-face or real time communication situations.

The challenge for Wiegand and his colleagues was to answer the questions: How can you redesign a screen such that you can display a large number of icons, but not all at once, which can be cognitively burdensome? How can icon-based systems be redesigned for faster and more efficient communication, as well as to accommodate users with upper limb motor impairments?

Together with his advisor and colleagues at Northeastern University, Wiegand is working on initial designs of two new approaches to icon-based
AAC: one using continuous motion and one using a brain-computer interface (BCI). The continuous motion system, called Symbol Path, consists of 120 screen icons of semantically salient words. “Continuous motion” means that a user can touch a word to begin a sentence, and without breaking contact from the screen, swipe or drag from icon to icon, ultimately completing a sentence.

His second approach makes use of a practice borrowed from the field of psychology. It is a system that shows icons to a user that represents a word or small phrase, in a serial fashion. It’s called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. It allows for more efficient sentence construction, rather than presenting the user with a screen full of icons that must be made small in order to offer the user a full compliment of choices, which may be overwhelming.

This method of presenting information in rapid-fire fashion has been used before. If it sounds familiar, you may have once used this same technique if you’ve ever tried to tackle “speed reading.”

“My goal is to build a star trek computer.” Wiegand declares. He went on to explain. “A computer like the one in the program Star Trek, that can understand anybody, and will do it’s best to fill a person’s desires or needs.”

Karl was gracious enough to patiently explain what essential elements of communication would be required in order to make a “Star Trek computer” possible. First, a computer would have to be capable of parsing, which senses for context and speech recognition. Another element would include learning contexts, whereby a computer would understand how people interact with systems and expected responses from users. Finally, artificial intelligence would have to be achieved, enabling problem-solving with incomplete information, and natural language processing.

Until the point at which Mr. Wiegand has utterly changed our lives, and I do not doubt for a moment that he will, Wiegand says he’d like to work on Siri. To achieve his ultimate ends, Karl has worked in a number of other fields that have led him to this research. “I like AAC.” Wiegand continues. “It is a very focused area that is actually a vertex for four or five other fields.”

At CSUN, Karl will demonstrate the SymbolPath system, a prototype version of which is currently available for free on the Android app store (search for “SymbolPath”), show the BCI system, explain how both systems work, and talk about future directions for both. Wiegand hopes to have a system in place at his CSUN session so that attendees who interact with AAC users, friends or loved ones of AAC users, or AAC users themselves, can help create a corpus — a data set that shows what certain users want in certain times or settings or situations.

“We have revised both approaches based on initial testing and user feedback, and we are currently conducting several iterations of user-assisted design and revision before proceeding to full user testing.” Wiegand notes.

Attendees can help build this database by contributing realistic text, utterances, or phrases that AAC users like to say. If you attend the session, or find Karl throughout the week, you can contribute to the database or ask questions. In exchange, Karl will give you a copy of Symbol Path.

Karl will be presenting on Friday, March 1st at 3:10 pm in the Ford AB room, third floor.
Here is the link to the session page:
http://bit.ly/15yOOND

More about Karl Wiegand:

Karl Wiegand is a Ph.D. student in computer science at
Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. He works in the
Communication Analysis and Design Laboratory (CadLab) under the
advisement of Dr. Rupal Patel. Since joining the CadLab in 2009, Karl
has been working on alternative methods of communication for users
with neurological
impairments and severely limited mobility. His research includes
aspects of interface design, artificial intelligence, and language
theory.

Here are more ways to contact Karl, and help with his corpus gathering project:

Karl Wiegand’s homepage: http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/wiegand/
Karl’s lab: http://www.cadlab.neu.edu/
Link to Karl on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karlwiegand/

Finally, if you know or love an AAC user, you can help get the ball rolling on data-gathering here:

http://www.cadlab.neu.edu/corpus/

Don’t forget to use hashtag #CSUN13 when tweeting about the event. See you in San Diego!

LL