Now, online shopping is as easy as chatting with a friend. Introducing Say Shopping.


If you are a screen reader or other assistive technology user, and have ever felt overwhelmed navigating an online shopping destination, then you may have turned to a smartphone app instead. Often, the main retail shopping sites are visually cluttered and can lack some useful markup that allows for screen reader users to quickly identify and navigate to necessary links and buttons. Many smartphone apps provided by retailers offer a user experience that is more streamlined, and therefore more efficient, due to the limited number of options available as compared to their huge web sites. Unfortunately, some of these same retailers have app’s that can be as confusing as their full site counterparts, since the limits imposed by app size and scope can leave little room for ubiquitous help, thereby reducing intuitive functionality.

Now, thanks to a new technology developed by Conversant Labs, using your smartphone to shop online is as easy as chatting with a friend. Say Shopping is an iOS app that enables users to interact with a retail establishment, in this case, Target Stores, by using natural language. Chris Maury, founder of Conversant Labs, sat down with me for a fascinating discussion of the Say Shopping app, algorithms, and natural language processing technology. Be sure to click on the link at the end of the article to listen to the audio interview with Chris that I posted for the Fashionability Channel.

LL: What is meant by “natural language processing,” and how have you furthered this technology in the Say Shopping app?
CM: Natural Language Processing or NLP allows a computer to understand the meaning behind the words people use. NLP has a wide range of uses from understanding whether someone is happy or sad or understanding that when they say “I ran out of toilet paper” they’re probably looking to buy more.
With Say Shopping we’ve taken NLP and applied it to the realm of shopping, and by doing so made it really easy for people to shop using their voice (something that’s never been possible before).

LL: Your technology will allow eyes-free, and eventually, hands-free interaction with other apps and devices. Where do you see the future of the technology headed?
CM: In the next year or so, we are finally going to see voice interaction move beyond simple virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now. With new products and services like Apple’s Carplay and the Amazon Echo, we are finally seeing devices where it is much easier to interact with them using voice than it is using touch. With these new products we’ll start to see more exciting features for voice-based services; Say Shopping and being able to shop online is just one example. Soon we’ll be able to read and follow recipes while we cook, order an Uber, and manage our email all from a voice client. And we’re building the tools that developers are going to need to create these new, voice-driven experiences.

LL: What can users expect from this first release of Say Shopping? Will there eventually be other retailers or use cases for your technology?
CM: You can search through Target’s entire product catalog, hear about product details and customer reviews, and order any products that Target will deliver to your house. We’re working to add the ability to order for in-store pickup as well which will open up shopping for groceries as well.
We want to make the best shopping experience possible for our users, so we want to make sure they have options in what they are shopping for and where they are buying from. We also want to bring Say Shopping to as many people as possible, so we are looking at supporting other platforms besides the iPhone such as Apple’s Carplay.

LL: How can other developers or potential licensees get involved in creating new platforms for the technology?
CM: We are finishing up work on our Say Kit Software Development Kit (SDK) which we used to build Say Shopping. We want as many people as possible building voice based experiences into their apps. We will be releasing the first version of the SDK in the coming months, but if developers are interested in getting early access they can reach me at chris@conversantlabs.com.

LL: Is Say Shopping available now? Where can readers find it?
CM: Say Shopping is available now from the Apple App Store. Download the app by following this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sayshopping/id969106932?ls=1&mt=8

You can learn more about the app at sayapps.com

LL: Anything else you’d like Accessible Insights readers to know?
CM: Say Shopping is still early in it’s development. We wanted to get it out there as soon as we could while providing something that people would find useful. There is still a lot we want to do with the app, and there is still a lot we can do to make it better. So if you have any ideas on how to make the app better, please let us know.

LL: I also want readers to know that Chris will be attending the National Federation of the Blind 75th annual convention the week of July 6th, 2015. You can find him bouncing between the booth for Target Stores, B43-44, and the Elegant Insights Braille Creations booth C6. You can try out the app, ask questions, and learn more about the technology. To hear a demo of the Say Shopping app, check out the interview I conducted with Chris for the Fashionability Channel podcast at http://fashionabilitychannel.wordpress.com/.

More about Chris Maury:
Chris was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Degeneration in 2011 and has been working in the accessibility community ever since. He is also the
co-organizer of the Pittsburgh Accessibility Meetup a group with 200
members discusses how to make the world around us more accessible to people across disabilities. This group has met monthly since it’s founding in 2013 and covers topics from accessible sports to emerging accessibly technologies from universities and companies alike.

Get in touch with Chris:
Website: Sayapps.com
Twitter: twitter.com/@cmaury
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Conversant-Labs/438191096263041

See you in Orlando, everyone.

LL

The CVAA Advanced Communications Implementation Best Practices to be presented at CSUN 2014


During the week of the CSUN Conference on Disability and Assistive Technology held from March 17 – 22, 2014, Pratik Patel will be very busy indeed. he will be presenting information on a number of topics that will surely elevate his visibility throughout the week, as well as ensure the edification of all who attend his sessions. Patel’s speaking lineup offers something for just about anyone, as he is fluent and knowledgeable in a number of industry topic areas.

When Pratik agreed to an interview with me, I had no idea that I would find one of his presentation topics so compelling that I plied him with questions for over an hour. He was gracious and forthcoming, and shared a great deal as to developments in an area of communication that directly affects those of us in the blind community. Since this post is merely a promotional piece which can only provide the briefest of overviews in an effort to garner interest in his session, I must say that I cannot do our interview justice. Here, I will focus on our conversation regarding his presentation entitled, “CVAA Advanced Communications.” I encourage you to attend this session, and if time does not permit all of your questions can be answered, contact mr. Patel via the details at the end of this post. I’m certain you will find the subject matter as interesting as I did.

Patel began the interview by explaining that his goal was to set out best practices for implementing accessibility in telecommunications with users in mind. On October 8, 2010, President Obama signed a comprehensive law enabling people with disabilities to access communications of all forms including televisions, DVRs, telephones and other forms of communications. Two of the requirements of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), require that manufacturers of devices, cable and television service providers, and other telecommunication firms make changes to their services, programs, and devices to ensure that people with disabilities will have full access.

Patel says, “Now that the CVAA is in effect, and many of the parts of the CVAA are being implemented, little by little, we need to talk about what the best practices are so that these features are implemented in such a way as to keep all users in mind.”

I asked Patel to give me an example of accessibility features that were implemented without users in mind, as I found this assertion to be confusing at first. he explained that the way television and other content is distributed now, the major carriers are intermediaries, and there are a number of factors that can be barriers to users with disabilities.

“The mechanism for delivering video description became very complicated with different televisions and digital technology,” comments Patel. “For example, televisions requiring that a user navigate menus and turn on certain features, or DVR and set-top boxes that can be inaccessible, because these devices may have their own menuing system, where a person once was able to press a button on their remote control to get access to descriptive services. The original way to deliver description was to use the Secondary Audio Channel (SAP) functionality.”

I was frankly incredulous that accessibility had been an afterthought to such a degree, and Patel assured me that it was. “One of the things I want to do is not only to suggest guidelines, but to highlight manufacturers who are doing it right.” Says Patel.

He plans to outline ways in which manufacturers can standardize access to descriptive services, not only in general principle, but in specific technical terms. Additionally, Patel will reveal how you can be a part of the process. He plans a call to action that I know many will find compelling. Attend his session to learn more.

Go to the CSUN sessions page to indicate your interest in “CVAA advanced communications,” and be sure to save yourself a seat. http://www.csun.edu/cod/conference/2014/sessions/index.php/public/presentations/view/393

Patel is also planning to co-present with Sina Bahram (@SinaBahram) on API comparisons between iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Check it out here:
http://www.csun.edu/cod/conference/2014/sessions/index.php/public/presentations/view/394

He will again partner with Sina Bahram, along with Billy Gregory (@thebillygregory), and Sarah Outwater (@SassyOutwater) to present:
Crowd sourcing the accessibility problem:
http://www.csun.edu/cod/conference/2014/sessions/index.php/public/presentations/view/383

More about Pratik Patel:
Mr. Pratik Patel is the Founder and CEO of EZFire, a firm dedicated to bringing new enterprise, mobile and individualized solutions to a rapidly-changing technological landscape. Since the company’s founding in 2006, Mr. Patel has worked with such clients as Columbia University, Boston University, Amtrak and The Major League Baseball to develop innovative technology solutions as well as develop policies and procedures to provide accessible technology solutions for millions of consumers with disabilities. Focusing on consulting work such as accessible, usable website, equipment interface design for the commercial sector, and usability to variety of interfaces, integration of accessibility into information technology in the higher education sector, as well as nonprofit management and development, Mr. Patel has led his company to a success. In 2014, Mr. Patel stands ready to introduce several new projects that will allow him to use his experience and expertise on interface design as his passion for knowledge and learning.

Over the last few years, Mr. Patel has served as the Executive Director of Society for Disability Studies, a nonprofit that promotes increased use of disability studies in academic and in general life. Since 2006, MR. Patel has also focused on variety of projects to ensure access to vital technologies for students with disabilities at the City University of New York. Through this work, Mr. Patel’s primary focus has been policies and procedures to improve university-wide responses to information technology access.

Until 2006, Mr. Patel served as the Director of the Assistive Technology Services Project for the City University of New York. His seven years of work with the Project enabled Mr. Patel to successfully develop and deploy assistive technology solutions for faculty, students and staff at CUNY. Through his work, the CUNY Assistive Technology Services Project was named as one of the top 100 best practices in the nation. Mr. Patel’s collaborative work with the City University’s centers that promote excellence led to a four-year PeopleTech Project by the U.S. Department of Education to bring access technologies into CUNY’s classrooms and allow the university to conduct vital research on providing access to science and mathematics material for students with sensory disabilities.

Mr. Patel has served as the East Coast Vice President for the Access Technologists in Higher Education Network (ATHEN), a professional group dedicated to ensuring IT access throughout America’s colleges and universities. Mr. Patel also serves on the New York state Governor’s advisory Council to the Department of Education to implement the requirements of the higher education e-text legislation. In that capacity, Mr. Patel has worked closely with institutions of higher learning and top publishers of classroom material to ensure access to curricular material for students with disabilities. Serving on the New York State Independent Living Council as well as on the board of Directors of the Queens Independent Living Center, Mr. Patel has focused on the use of technology among people with disabilities. Serving as the chair person for the Information Access Committee as well as the Advocacy Services Committee for the American Council of the Blind, Mr. Patel has focused on information access and advocacy needs for blind Americans. As the President of American Council of the blind of New York, Mr. Patel works on a variety of nonprofit development and advocacy issues facing blind New York residents.

Pratik Patel’s contact info:

Telephone: 888-320-2921
Email: ppatel@ezfire.net (or pratikp1@gmail.com)
Follow on Twitter: @ppatel
Follow on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/pratik-patel/9/985/882
Skype: Patel.pratik

Be sure to head to the main CSUN sessions page to make your session choices, and don’t forget to use hashtag #CSUN14 when tweeting about the event.

See you soon.

LL

iPhone 5 as time machine: Updating my ancient tech, a progress report


As a follow-up to my post entitled “From Stone Tablet to a Bite of the Apple,” about my first foray into the apple product funnel, I thought I would write a post as to my progress thus far, now that I’ve had my iPhone 5 for six months. Several of my readers have asked for an update, along with a list of my preferred apps, and some comments as to my ongoing experience. Your wish is my command.

One of my first observations about the usability of iOS and the handset in general was that, unlike all of my experiences with Windows products, whether mobile or desktop, I never once uttered a horrified gasp at any point, thinking that I had done something wrong. The operation of the device was completely stable, predictable, and understandable. I never felt as though I was in any danger of breaking the device, losing data, accidentally deleting something important or feeling as though I had to tiptoe my way through the software. This gave me an immediate feeling of accomplishment and confidence in whatever choices I made, whether that was to download an app, delete one, change settings, update to a newer version, or try something new. The Apple experience with iOS is one that inspires the user to go from novice to power user in very short order. Little is permanent or non-fixable or otherwise irretrievable.

As a result, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and dive in as completely as I cared to, going straight for the apps and using the features that would permit the greatest productivity. I decided to make this little miracle gadget do everything it possibly could, and short of jail breaking the device, I believe I have done just that.

So as to keep the next few posts brief, as well as to serve as a reminder to my readers that I’m still here, despite my long summer writing hiatus that has lasted well into autumn, I will publish a series of articles featuring the various categories of apps I’m using, in case you’d like to try a few in one or more categories. Yes, I’m aware that there are already accessible apps lists on popular forums and web sites, but everyone has their own contribution to make, and if you happen to appreciate my point of view, then you might make some choices based upon my experiences. Besides, I’ve been away such a long time, I need to reintroduce myself, and to invite you to return. I’ll try not to be gone so long next time.

Read From Stone Tablet to a Bite of the Apple

LL

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

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

From stone tablet to a bite of the Apple


If you are among those who follow me on Twitter, you are likely already well acquainted with my recent changeover from one mobile phone platform to another. My intention to do this, as well as my reluctance, has long been a topic of discussion among my friends and fellow geeks. I’ve taken quite a bit of good-natured ribbing from people who, for nearly two years, have wondered how on Earth I can claim any expertise in accessibility, when clearly I am using technology from the Jurassic period. What follows is a short exposition on my long-overdue transition from the Windows Smartphone-based Motorola Q to the Apple iPhone 5.

The Moto Q, which my friends have dubbed The Stone Tablet, has been my only mobile device since 2007. To the dubiously named “Smartphone” operating system, I added Mobile Speak, a text-to-speech program by Code Factory. One feature I really liked about the Moto Q was the tactile qwerty keyboard, which made text entry easy. It seemed that most of the new devices were making use of touch screen technology. How could text entry be easy with a touch screen? I wondered. It’s not that I was unaware of the tidal wave of Apple products sweeping over the globe, it’s that I didn’t care. One could hardly avoid the constant din of Apple zealots, though, especially those for whom accessibility is a priority. But my setup served the purpose, it worked for me, and I had no real desire to give it up…that is, until the phone began to suffer from the ravages of old age, and yes, obsolescence.

For a variety of reasons, one of which was the necessity of accepting credit card payments when exhibiting my Elegant Insights Braille Creations jewelry at conferences and trade shows, I decided to at least entertain the possibility of switching to an Apple device, although I had no idea which one. My first foray into an Apple store was over a year ago at holiday time, when I stopped into my local Apple Store to buy a loved one a gift card. While there, I decided to ask the Apple associate to show me an iPad, which seemed like the best option for me at the time, and maybe get a demonstration of Voice Over, the text-to-speech feature built into Apple devices that makes using a touch screen possible for users who are blind.

Upon explaining my request to the associate, I was greeted by an awkward silence, and, according to my companion, a blank stare. “I don’t know what that voice thing is,” the young employee said, “I don’t think an iPad does that.”

“All of your products have Voice Over,” I declared, as confidently as I could, not entirely sure if that was true. “It’s built into the iPad, and if I knew how to bring it up, I’d show you.” Okay, now that was a bald-faced lie, I had never so much as held an iPad or IPhone in my hands, and I just really wanted to see one. But he never so much as let me touch one, since he began to back away, realizing that he would be unable to assist me, and the store was packed with people whom he could assist. I left the store empty-handed, except for the aforementioned gift card.

My interest was more recently piqued, though, when a friend showed me a variety of tablet sizes and models at a recent conference. I marveled at the full-size tablet, which seemed to be nothing more than a wafer-thin sheet of glass, reminiscent of a tray on which I’d served cheese at a dinner party.

After polling some tweeps and conducting a bit of my own research, I decided that in fact the device that would be best for me was the iPhone. While I had really enjoyed paying only $40 a month for my ancient cell service plan, I realized that having the phone combined with the iPad features would solve the most of my problems and meet the most of my needs. So, for my birthday, I decided to buy myself the gift of an iPhone 5.

Before it arrived in the mail, I gathered as many articles, podcasts, and user’s guides as I could get my hands on, and began to prepare for what I was sure would be a steep learning curve. Between the new operating system, the touch screen gestures, and a new speech interface to learn, the entire Apple IOS lexicon loomed large and intimidating before me.

Cutting to the chase, it took only a few days, once I got up and running, to master the device. Now, I can confidently claim fluency. However, it was the part of the process that occurred prior to the ‘after I got up and running,” part that I want to make note of here, simply as a way to help others who may be considering a similar switch. There are a few things you ought to know, and these things can make the difference between delight and utter frustration when it’s time to pull the device out of the packaging.

The first thing you ought to know is, people who know nothing about Apple devices really do know absolutely nothing. There isn’t much that can compare the Apple user experience to other devices that are made by other manufacturers, so do not under any circumstances listen to anyone who does not actually use an Apple product. This may include, but may not be limited to, cellular service providers.

Just to give you one example of what I mean by this, realize that there is a difference between activating the new cellular phone service plan, and activating the device. You may think this point to be obvious, but one hapless Sprint customer service associate who was unlucky enough to answer my call did not. Further, I was told, in response to my question about where I might find the serial number that is required to complete the setup process, I was told that it is located inside the phone. I was told to remove the back panel of the battery compartment, and enter into the phone the numbers printed on the decal.

In case you don’t know, you cannot remove the back of the iPhone. There is no battery compartment from which to remove the back panel, the serial number is either printed somewhere on the packaging, or it is on file with the cellular service provider from which you ordered the phone.

You should also know that it is possible to set up the device yourself, right out of the box, without sighted assistance. However, if you are a person who is easily frustrated, know that there is an easy way to accomplish this, and a hard way. I was determined to get my phone working on my own, but if you know you have a short fuse, just do it the easy way…take the device to an Apple store or the store that supports the cellular service provider, and have them set it up for you. At the time, I had no access to a nearby store, so unless I wanted to wait for someone who was available and willing to drive me some distance, I had few options. I was impatient to get going. Ultimately, though, doing it my way may have actually taken longer than waiting for four wheels and a couple of eyeballs.

Setting up the phone requires quite a bit of data entry, and if you are unfamiliar with how text entry is achieved on an Apple device, it also requires quite a bit of patience. Text entry was a matter of some concern to me, but as it turned out, I caught on quickly, and was able to enter the required information easily enough. What I found frustrating was that I wasn’t always entirely sure I understood what the phone was asking me to do. To express this idea in terms of the English language, the Apple dialect is a bit unfamiliar, word choice, usage, and syntax is different than what I had been accustomed to when using the “stone tablet.”

If you have not yet decided to change your outdated technology to an Apple device, are reluctant, or maybe just reject all things Apple out of hand, one reason you may feel this way could be due to your concerns about privacy. If you are among those still clinging fast to the illusion of privacy, I’m sympathetic. You should know that the moment you complete the setup process of the new Apple device, you have slipped from the edge and are now freefalling into the Apple abyss. You should carefully and thoroughly read the terms and conditions of use, as well as the Apple Corporation privacy policy, and that of the “artificial intelligence” assistant, Siri. Furthermore, you should scrutinize the TOS and privacy policies of any apps you download, whether free or paid. Frankly, I had to delete a number of apps, simply because their privacy policy, a misnomer if I ever heard one, made my skin crawl. If you have not already done so, and you are a blind user who has downloaded some of those object identification apps, you should take the time to learn what happens to the images of the items you photograph. It’s a little disturbing. If you are taking pictures of documents and mail for text recognition,place or object identification purposes, don’t think for a minute that you are the only one privy to the contents of that photo. Same goes for your use of the voice dictation features. There’s more, but I’ll let you make that horrifying discovery on your own.

I’ll say this for my new iPhone: Since it arrived, it has seldom left my side. I have never been one to keep my cell phone strapped to my person, I have never enjoyed using a cell phone, I dislike talking on one, I don’t like the way it makes voices sound, it’s harder to hear, it gets hot in your hand, and other than the few times it has been extremely convenient that I’ve had one, I find the overall experience of using a cell phone to be mostly dissatisfying. Since I’ve loaded up my IPhone 5, however, I’ve come to think of it as simply a hand-held computer that happens to sport a phone. I can easily see a day when I will, as eagerly as everyone else, anticipate the latest release of IOS, the newest app to drop, or the sleekest, lightest, most feature-rich iteration of the device itself. So…What’s next?

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