Friday, June 29, 2012

Newly Mandated Video Description Could Bring 30 Million More Viewers to Network Programming

Diane Johnson, founder and chief executive officer of Descriptive Video Works, one of the leading providers fro video description services in North America, is proclaiming July 1, 2012 as Independence Day for the nearly 30 million Americans with vision disabilities. July 1, 2012 is the deadline set by the FCC for the top broadcast and cable networks to begin providing a minimum of four hours per week of video described programming – a secondary audio track narration describing the visual elements in each scene that add to a program’s plot or storyline and is inserted between natural pauses in dialogue – creating a more robust television experience for audience with vision disability. Video description could also increase ratings for those networks offering the service.

Watch Descriptive Video demo below:

“Thanks to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), citizens who are blind and low vision of the U.S. are finally gaining the access they deserve to the information, communication and entertainment that most of us take for granted,” said Johnson in issuing the proclamation.  “All of us that serve and advocate for people who are blind and low vision are thankful for the access provided by this initiative, and are encouraged by the number of networks and content producers who are stepping up to provide video description beyond the mandated hours.  Video description offers people who are blind and low vision an opportunity to learn more about the visual world and provides them with a better understanding and more dynamic television experience, helps them to enjoy a greater social connection through shared entertainment and fosters a stronger sense of independence.”

Shirley Manning, director of Junior Blind of America’s adult program, the Davidson Program for Independence, added, “As an organization that strives to help those who are blind or low vision achieve independence, everyone at Junior Blind of America could not be more pleased that our students will have greater access to televised content through video described programming.  We hope this will inspire other platforms, like museums, theaters and other cultural venues to provide similar video description services.”

In 1996, the U.S. Congress required video programming distributors (cable operators, broadcasters, satellite distributors and other multi-channel video programming distributors) to close caption their television programs.  This was a great service for some 20 million people who are hard of hearing or deaf in this country, but since closed captioning is text display showing a transcription of the dialogue from a program, it doesn’t benefit people who are blind or low vision

In 2000, the FCC adopted rules requiring certain broadcasters and Multiple Video Programming Distributors (Comcast, AT&T, etc.) to carry a limited amount of programming with video description — an audio track added to the program which provides a rich description of the scene and action taking place in conjunction with the dialogue.  But five months later, after an intense lobbying effort, the U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed the FCC ruling on the grounds that the Commission lacked sufficient authority.

On October 8, 2010, President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into law.  The CVAA calls for the top national networks’ (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and affiliates in the top 25 markets and the five top-rated cable networks — Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, TBS, TNT, The Disney Channel and USA – and the cable and satellite systems with at least 50,000 subscribers that carry them have to provide a minimum of 50 hours per quarter, or roughly 4 hours per week, of video described programming in prime time and/or children’s programming.  The FCC set the deadline for compliance for July 1, 2012 and will expand the number of hours of video described programming and increase the coverage areas in an effort to ensure 100% accessibility for people who are blind or low vision by 2020.

At that time, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyborn said, “In providing video description, America’s blind community will not only be able to enjoy the entertainment that video content providers offer, but they will also be part of the conversation around it.  I want to stress this, as I can imagine how left out a visually-impaired child feels when his or her classmates are discussing what happened on a popular show the night before, and to not be a part of that conversation or be able to follow along.   The same is true for blind adults, for whom the proverbial water cooler chats about TV shows hold little meaning or enjoyment.   This item will assist those individuals in getting even closer to the mainstream when it comes to popular culture, and we are a better and more complete nation for it.”

eadline for video description, television networks, program producers, news organizations and online video platforms now have nearly 30 million very compelling reasons for compliance.
With the FCC’s mandated July 1, 2012 d

Source: Descriptive Video Works

Universal Design Strikes a Balance Between Safety and Style

Living in a two-story house became a challenge for Susan and Paul Toback and their two sons, one of whom is physically and cognitively disabled. Their newer one-level house in Bannockburn makes life much easier.
“It wasn’t just the stairs, which didn’t work for my son or for my back problems,” Susan Toback said. “The new house means my son is safer and more independent.”

Rosemarie Rossetti shows off her new kitchen, which includes three staggered levels of countertops, a lower microwave and oven, and a roll-up stovetop. Her new home is called the Universal Design Living Laboratory. (Photo credit: Courtney Hergesheimer, Columbus Dispatch)
Rosemarie Rossetti shows off her new kitchen, which includes three staggered levels of countertops, a lower microwave and oven, and a roll-up stovetop. Her new home is called the Universal Design Living Laboratory. (Photo credit: Courtney Hergesheimer, Columbus Dispatch)
Built in 2009 by Lake Bluff-based Orren Pickell Builders & Designers, the Tobacks’ home incorporates basic principles of universal design, including simplicity and flexibility.

By definition, the concept involves making a product or environment “usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design,” according to the Center for Universal Design in Raleigh, N.C.

Universal design at the Tobacks’ house begins with stepless entries into the house and garage. The home also has an elevator to the finished basement, a basement bedroom suite for a future caregiver and grab bars in the hallways.

The Tobacks insisted that the house not look institutional. The result is a home that blends function and style. The open floor plan, with 4-foot-wide hallways for easy mobility, is attractive and suitable for all ages and abilities. An accessible bathroom features a walk-in tub and raised toilet and sink. The layout of the kitchen keeps drawers within easy reach, while the center island is at a convenient height for seating.

“Universal design is all about making the house comfortable and safe for everyone in the family,” said David Roberts, president of Roberts Architects & Construction Group Inc. in Evanston. “It combines home design with (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. You have the wider doorways, for example, not just for a wheelchair turning radius but for the guy who breaks his leg in a skiing accident.”

Approaching universal design with a client can raise eyebrows, Roberts said. “I can’t say, ‘Boy, you’re getting old, I think you need grab bars,’ ” he said. “But I do ask their needs, and most families have them. You may not have an older or disabled person in the family, but you have a toddler or a visiting grandparent.”

Roberts talked about a client who wanted the freedom to live in her home even if she became sick or injured.
“After her husband died, she wanted to stay in her home with her dog, though friends urged her to go to a retirement home,” he said. “She could still get upstairs but asked us to build a first-floor bedroom-bathroom, with easy access to the backyard. Since then, she broke her hip but was able to stay.”

Incorporating universal design elements can be as simple as installing illuminated light switches or lever handles instead of door knobs.

r’s reaction is, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’” said Art Wehnert of Country Remodelers in Campton Hills, Ill.
“Usually, the homeowner

A first-floor master suite is the typical starting point for making a house more user-friendly. “In new construction, it just doesn’t make sense to not have (a bedroom) on the first floor,” Wehnert said. “For a remodel, we try to save the homeowner money by converting a large unused room like a den. But more often, we need to add a bathroom to it.”

Cheryl Daugvila of Cheryl D. & Co., a kitchen and bathroom design firm in La Grange, said it’s ideal to build a room that can be a den or guest room now, with a Murphy bed and built-in cabinets. Later, the space can become a bedroom with a bed and built-in drawers.

In addition to baby boomers needing first-floor bedroom suites for themselves, more homeowners prepare them for elderly parents, Daugvila said.

“More often, we have more than one generation in the house, so someone in the family needs that room,” she said.

Bathrooms that can accommodate a wide variety of users are safer for everyone, said Chicago-based interior designer Leslie Markman-Stern.

“Forget the polished marble floor of the ’90s; everyone slipped on that,” she said.
For safety, her bathroom designs have textured flooring or smaller tiles because it is the grout, she said, that reduces slipping. She also suggests lights in showers and tubs, towel bars anchored in wall studs, hand-held shower heads and night lights disguised as wall lights.

First-floor master suites are a selling point no matter buyers’ demographics, Markman-Stern said.
“They work for nannies, live-in grandparents and parents who don’t necessarily need to be on the same floor as their babies because of the new baby monitors,” she said.

Modifying the kitchen to make it safe and comfortable can mean less bending, reaching and lifting.
“Even without a disability, it helps to have everything at counter height, at that sweet space where you don’t have to climb a stool or bend over,” Roberts said.

Wehnert added, “All the little things should be thought out, like task lighting where you prepare food and dog bowls in pull-out drawers so you don’t trip over them.”

Designers can help you find products not seen in showrooms, like faucets with touch controls, upper cabinets that pull down, shelves that pull out and appliances with easy-to-see controls.
eakfast counter, Markman-Stern said. “Then you can use chairs instead of stools that tip over,” she said.

The market for aging-in-place remodeling continues to grow as more homeowners choose to remain in their homes as they age. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Association of Home Builders offer programs and courses that promote standards of universal design in residential projects.

According to a June study by the American Association of Architects, the percentage of clients who asked their architects for “flexibility in accessibility” rose to 64 percent in 2012 from 58 percent last year.

D.R. Horton Inc. is one of the production builders that has jumped on the universal-design bandwagon.
At its active-adult developments in Aurora, Naperville and Pingree Grove, D.R. Horton offers upgrades like taller vanities and toilets, walk-in showers with seats and wider doorways. Company Vice President Chris Naatz said a key feature is an extra garage bay for storage instead of a basement to avoid stairs.

Despite gains in universal design, the concept is confusing to many homeowners.

“Slowly, we’re getting there,” Wehnert said. “People get it when they see it in another home or on TV. It’s all about changing expectations. We’ll get to the point where this is the norm.”

A showcase for accessibility

The Universal Design Living Laboratory, a state-of-the-art home in Columbus, Ohio, serves as a learning center and resource for builders, remodelers, designers, architects and homeowners. The 3,500-square-foot ranch-style home incorporates universal design principles to demonstrate how a more comfortable and accessible living environment enhances quality of life.

The home was created by project founder Rosemarie Rossetti and her husband, Mark Leder, after Rossetti suffered a spinal cord injury 14 years ago that left her paralyzed from the waist down. After returning home from the hospital in a wheelchair, Rossetti realized just how unaccommodating her two-story home was for this new reality, which drove her and her husband to create the Universal Design Living Laboratory.
For more information, visit

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Robot Technology Helps Blind People Navigate Indoor and Outdoor Environments Independently

Robots need help navigating their surroundings and sophisticated location systems keep track of their position. Now, the same technologies are being adapted to help people who are blind navigate indoor and outdoor spaces independently.

One such system, being developed by Edwige Pissaloux and colleagues at the Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France, consists of a pair of glasses equipped with cameras and sensors like those used in robot exploration.

The system, unveiled at a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in May, produces a 3D map of the wearer’s environment and their position within it that is constantly updated and displayed in a simplified form on a handheld electronic Braille device. It could eventually allow blind people to make their way, unaided, wherever they want to go, says Pissaloux.

“Navigation for me means not only being able to move around by avoiding nearby obstacles, but also to understand how the space is socially organized – for example, where you are in relation to the pharmacy, library or intersection,” she says.

Two cameras on either side of the glasses generate a 3D image of the scene. A processor analyses the image, picking out the edges of walls or objects, which it uses to create a 3D map. The system’s collection of accelerometers and gyroscopes – such as those used in robots to monitor their position – keeps track of the user’s location and speed. This information is combined with the image to determine the user’s position in relation to other objects.

The system generates almost 10 maps per second which are transmitted to the handheld Braille device to be displayed as a dynamic tactile map. The Braille pad consists of an 8-centimeter-square grid of 64 taxels – pins with a shape memory alloy spring in the middle. When heat is applied to the springs, they expand, raising the pins to represent boundaries.

The Braille version of the map is updated fast enough for a blind wearer to pass through an area at walking speed, says Pissaloux. Seth Teller, who develops assistive technologies at MIT, calls the work exciting and ambitious.

This is not the only robotics project to be re-purposed. Software that predicts how far a robot has traveled based on information from its on-board sensors is being modified to track a person’s movements based on their stride length. The low-cost system, being developed by Eelke Folmer and Kostas Bekris at the University of Nevada in Reno would help blind people navigate around buildings using just a smartphone.

The new system uses freely available 2D digital indoor maps and the smartphone’s built-in accelerometer and compass. Directions are provided using synthetic speech. To help the smartphone calibrate and adjust to a user’s individual stride length, the user must initially use touch to detect the landmarks in their environment, such as corridor intersections, doors and elevators. The system was presented last month at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in St. Paul, Minnesota.

David Ross, at the Atlanta Vision Loss Center in Decatur, Ga., says that the sensing problems faced by robots and blind people are similar, but there are big differences.

“Sensing systems developed for mobile robots may have some application, but must be adapted considerably to suit a wide variety of human needs and situations,” Ross says.

A virtual assistant can help blind people explore their surroundings. Developed by Suranga Nanayakkara at the MIT Media Lab, EyeRing consists of a ring equipped with a camera, and headphones. The user points the ring at an object they are holding and uses voice commands to say what they need to know – the color of an item of clothing, say, or the denomination of paper money.

The ring takes a picture of the object, which is transmitted wirelessly to a cellphone, where software analyzes the image. The information is then read out by a synthesized voice.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Social Media Helps Students with Autism "Navigate the World"

Jordan Hilkowitz is layering household products into a beaker for his latest science experiment. Right beside his mom’s coffeemaker on the kitchen counter, he is preparing a video entitled Layers and Density, describing each step for his 3,800 YouTube channel subscribers and more than 1.5-million viewers. It’s an extraordinary feat considering that five years ago, the 10-year-old autistic boy was non-verbal.

Ten year old Jordan Hilkowitz is photographed in the kitchen with a laptop showing his website on science experiments on June 8 2012. (Photo Credit: Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Ten year old Jordan Hilkowitz is photographed in the kitchen with a laptop showing his website on science experiments on June 8 2012. (Photo Credit: Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Jordan, better known as Doctor Mad Science, also has an audience of researchers who are intrigued by the fact that social media could be useful therapy for children with autism.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who has written nice comments about my video’s [sic],” he posted on a previous video. “I sometimes have a hard time making friends and I now know there are some nice people out there.”

One in every 150-160 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, neurological conditions that affect communication and social interaction.

But a growing number of children and young adults are harnessing the power of social media to bring them out of their shells, bolster their confidence and tell their stories – giving scientists a new and potentially transformative avenue to explore in the already extensive field of autism research.

Autistic children have long been drawn to technology, but what is it about these new forms of social media that changes behaviour?

“That part is very much a mystery. But it’s certainly attracting the attention of researchers,” said Peter Szatmari, a leading autism researcher, who is the head of child psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience at McMaster University and McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont.

One theory, Dr. Szatmari said, is that the human face doesn’t have the same drawing power for an autistic child, and that something about technology triggers the motivation that’s lacking in face-to-face contact. “This can really have a big impact in helping people with ASD navigate the world and be able to do things that we never thought possible before,” he said.

Marc Sirkin, vice-president of social marketing at Autism Speaks, an advocacy group in the United States, said Jordan and others are using social media in such astounding ways that those who work with them are forced to take a second look. Carly Fleischmann, a non-verbal autistic teen from Toronto, for example, tweets about her disorder and other topics to more than 24,000 followers, and Nichole Lee, a 21-year-old from Utah, has a YouTube channel where she posts video blogs and speaks about autism.

“We think about people with disabilities [as] being intellectually disabled. As it turns out, there’s a large part of the autism community that’s not intellectually disabled. They’re just unable to communicate,” Mr. Sirkin said.
Jordan began posting science experiments on YouTube a year ago with the help of a babysitter. His interest in science came at an early age – he collected rocks, worked on circuits and, at one point, installed pulleys all over his house. When his focus turned to experiments, his babysitter suggested he appear on camera because she thought it would force him to work on his speech and perhaps gain confidence. Jordan searches for kid-friendly science experiments online, conducts them before the camera, and helps edit the videos. He’s made about $2,200 through his YouTube business, with the goal of earning enough to buy a Macbook.

For Jordan’s mother, the greater value is emotional.

Stacey Hilkowitz remembered that she once needed the help of security guards at the mall to remove Jordan when he was having a screaming fit, and how he would smash his head against the floor. “I’m so embarrassed,” Jordan piped in, covering his face with his hands. Ms. Hilkowitz quickly turned the conversation to how Jordan has changed, crediting that transformation to his appearances on YouTube. He’s loud and confident, his speech has improved, he has friends, and even served some time in school detention this year. “I know it sounds funny, but those are the types of things we want to see,” said Ms. Hilkowitz, who has an older daughter also diagnosed with autism.

“This is a good year for you, Jordan, a very good year,” she said to her son.
Sometimes Jordan has wanted to quit. He has been hurt by comments about his voice and the fact that he doesn’t enunciate well.

These days, Ms. Hilkowitz deletes damaging comments early in the morning. Viewers try to boost his confidence as well. “Six dislikes?????? Don’t worry you can always knock back their job applications in twenty years time,” one wrote.

Jordan is buoyed by those comments. “It really gets to people,” he said. “Like with my disability, it really gets people realizing that anyone can do [anything].”

Drexel Students Develop Apps to Aid Students with Visual Impairment

 For people with vision disabilities daily activities such as reading a newspaper, texting or checking Facebook often require the extra step of sitting down at a computer or pulling out a text magnifier – a step that instantly signals their difference from those around them. A group of undergraduate computer science students at Drexel are now hoping to make these tasks as easy and common as using a smartphone.

Drexel computer science senior Nate Vecchiarelli (right) was part of a senior design group that developed and implemented smartphone apps to aid students with vision disabilities at Overbook School for the Blind.(Photo credit: Drexel University)
Drexel computer science senior Nate Vecchiarelli (right) was part of a senior design group that developed and implemented smartphone apps to aid students with vision disabilities at Overbook School for the Blind.(Photo credit: Drexel University)
VisAssist, a set of applications created by seniors Trevor Adams, Nate Bomberger, Tom Burdak,Shawn Busolits, Andrew Scott, Matt Staniewicz,Nate Vecchiarelli as part of the school’s capstone senior design program, introduces preexisting vision-assistance technology and improved social media interfaces to the mobile devices.

The computer science seniors, charged with solving an open-ended task, met with students, teachers and administrators at Overbook School for the Blind to learn about the current technology and gain insight about the shortcomings of standard smartphone interface for people with vision disabilities.

What the computer science students found was that, in addition to the rigors of daily reading, even the accessing popular social media applications via smartphones, can also be frustrating for individuals with visual disabilities.

“From meeting with the students we realized that current accessibility for websites was inadequate,” said Nate Vecchiarrelli, a member of the app design group. “Many of the complaints centered around changing interfaces that were poorly designed for current screen readers. We decided to take an entirely new approach that focused around the paradigm of one view, one purpose. This enabled our user interface to be simple, intuitive and not overload the user with too much information.”

The group started by simplifying the keyboard to make it easier for users to type and send text messages. The program they developed, dubbed “Binoboard,” is a customized keyboard that arranges the alphabet in a binary tree format. Users can simply swipe left or right to navigate through the alphabet and symbols, rather than searching a full keyboard. It also gives auditory feedback, supports voice recognition and stores passwords and phrases to increase the efficiency of the keyboard.

From there, the VisAssist team set off to produce better social media smartphone interfaces for users with vision disabilities. The students targeted Facebook, Twitter and Wikimedia, three of the most frequently used social media sites, for visual tweaking.

One application, called “Constrastinator,” functions similarly to the current “reader,” a magnifying device widely used by people with vision disabilities. The Contrastinator lets users to snap a picture or scan their mobile device over text, such as a newspaper or magazine, while the display alters the text to more contrasting colors and enlarges the type, making it easier to read.

The reader is big, clunky, red and yellow and looks like a child’s toy and they don’t want to be out in the community using these devices,” said Dael Cohen, transition services coordinator at Overbook School for the Blind. “Everyone has a phone, so snapping a picture of something to view it in the Contrastinator app doesn’t look all that out of the ordinary.”

Students at Overbrook are now becoming the first group to put the apps to use, after lending their input to their design. The Drexel team returned to the school in May to help students install and use the software, as well as learning how it can continue to be improved.

“A lot of attention has been paid to accessibility to academic-related tools for typing, reading and using a computer, so typical phone use is not often considered when it comes to helping people with visual impairments,” said Stephanie Hays, a teacher at Overbrook. “Students tend to shy away from using anything that makes them look different than others.”

m advisors. The sequence is open to seniors in any discipline, more than 500 seniors participated this year.
The work of this group of computer science students was recently recognized as Drexel’s top senior design project. The senior design program at Drexel is a three-course sequence intended to give students the experience of working in a professional setting. Groups of students work to solve an open-ended problem, while gathering information and learning via interactions with faculty, community members and representatives from industry and government who serve as tea

Judges selected VisAssist as one of eight finalists from the field of 135 entries. After the group made a final presentation of the work to a panel of representatives from local industry, VisAssist was dubbed the overall winner.

“Our approach is a great starting point in helping people with vision disabilities be able to experience technology many people take for granted,” VisAssist group member Nate Bomberger said.  “We believe our software can be used to make other applications more accessible, and while there is a lot more to do in the accessibility domain, our team has demonstrated that engineers can make a huge difference for people with disabilities.”

The VisAssist suite of applications is available for free on Android devices via the Google Play market. The team is also working on moving to other mobile platforms, and have working prototypes for the Contrastinator application on Windows Mobile and iOS, Apple’s flagship mobile platform.

Source: Drexel University

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Nuance Introduces Next Generation of Swype

Nuance announced the newest generation of its popular Swype keyboard for mobile devices. The latest version of this keyboard combines touch and voice input with adaptive capabilities that adjust to a person's preferences over time. New features include the ability to predict the next word you intend to type, a personal dictionary for speech and text, support for over 55 languages, and four input options (traditional Swype, typing with XT9, spoken text, and writing with one's finger.) The next-generation Swype keyboard is available to OEMs or you can pick up Swype Beta for Android today from

Here are some of its features:

  • Next Word Prediction: Swype’s next word prediction is amazingly intelligent as Nuance has integrated capabilities from its renowned XT9 portfolio. Swype gets smarter based on historical usage, so prediction becomes more accurate with each use.
  • Voice-Text Dictionary Syncing: Swype now includes a personal dictionary. Every new word a user enters on the keyboard gets added to their personal dictionary for speech and text, and you can even have Swype learn from emails, texts and posts. These updates are then mapped into Swype’s unified language model, so people can immediately speak or write that same word no matter how unique or specialized.
  • Language Downloads: Swypers everywhere can communicate in any language they speak, as Swype now supports the download of over 55 languages right from the device.
  • Four-in-One Keyboard: Swype now delivers a four input modalities in one keyboard. People can swype from letter to letter; type rapidly with predictive text input powered by XT9; speak their text naturally through a fully integrated Dragon button; or, simply write letters, words and symbols using their fingertip. Further, users can switch back and forth between modalities on the fly – providing the ultimate in keyboard personalization.

  • Go to to download the Swype Beta for Android today.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012

    Guided Access in iOS6

    The new iOS 6 was announced recently at Apple’s Worldwide Developers conference, and the updated operating system looks to have gotten tons of new integrated features. One new feature that might be overlooked, but certainly deserves some attention, is the new Guided Access mode for iOS devices.

    Guided Access is a form of accessibility software for iOS. Apple has always been at the forefront of technologies dedicated to helping people with disabilities interact with Apple products. Guided Access will allow a parent or teacher the ability to have full control of how an iOS device can be used. For example, the home button and all other hardware buttons can be locked, motion sensitivity can be disabled, or a certain portion of the screen can be made inactive toward touch. In addition, the device can be locked into a single app. This means that iOS device can now reliably be used to test students or give reading assignments, without fear that they will lose focus and end up playing Angry Birds. Apple also mentioned that the devices could be locked-down in this manner and used for museum information apps.

    It will be interesting to see what parents and teachers use Guided Access for, since the best uses for such technology are often found by the users rather than the designers.

    Government Websites Must Be Accessible, Court Finds

    The Federal Court of Appeal has ordered Ottawa to make its websites accessible to blind people.

    The decision is a second victory for plaintiff Donna Jodhan. The blind Toronto woman launched her lawsuit after discovering she could neither complete the 2006 census nor apply for a government job online.

    The problem was that federal websites weren’t programmed to operate with screen reading software that converts text into speech. Ms. Jodhan, who is an accessibility consultant, claimed her right to equality under Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was denied as a result. The government’s defence was that the same information was available by other means such as mail, telephone or in person.

    The Federal Court agreed that Ms. Jodhan had been discriminated against and ruled the government is obliged to ensure websites are fully accessible. The three-judge panel noted that the Internet is “one of the most, if not the most important tools ever designed for accessing not only government information and services, but all types of information and services.”

    Advocacy groups for the visually impaired welcome the decision.

    “It’s unfortunate that someone had to go to these ends to attain what is a fundamental right,” says CNIB president and CEO John Rafferty, “However, we are pleased by the court ruling that upholds the constitutional obligation of the government to ensure Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have equal access to information, enabling them to be independent, productive members of society.”

    John Rae, past president of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians says “It’s now time for the government to stop fighting against the Blind community and comply with their obligations to make all of its websites fully accessible.”

    A spokesperson for the federal minister responsible, Treasury Board president Tony Clement, says Ottawa is committed to web accessibility and to date over 100 government institutions are converting their content in line with the web content accessibility guidelines.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2012

    Disaster Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities

    Persons with disabilities need to be prepared to quickly escape their homes in the event of emergencies such as fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, a Mayo Clinic expert says.

    Preparations for persons with disabilities are more complicated than people without disabilities.
    “As we learned during Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, persons with disabilities need to consider a number of different factors, such as identifying who is in their support system, special transportation needs and what supplies to include in their emergency-preparedness kits,” clinical nurse specialist Lisa Beck said in a Mayo news release.

    Beck worked with patients with disabilities to design patient-education materials, and she offers the following tips for people with disabilities:
    • Practice getting out of the house quickly at least twice a year.
    • Discuss any special needs with a local emergency-medical-services provider.
    • Plan where to go for shelter and how to get there, and who may need to provide you with assistance.
    • Compile an emergency-preparedness kit that can last 24 to 48 hours. It should include items such as medication lists, contact numbers, medications, catheter supplies and a first-aid kit.
    • Think about shelter and supplies for your service animal.
    More information
    The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has more about emergency planning and preparedness for people with disabilities.

    SOURCES: Mayo Clinic

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    Online Text-to-Speech

    Inclusive Planet has a great list of 10 online text-to-speech services -- you enter text, and it is spoken right then and there.

    Source: AT Coalition

    Secure Social Network for Special Educators, Families, Others

    Parlerai is a customized social network for special education, linking school, therapy, and home environments to foster better communication. Parents are the customers -- they select who gets what information, and can manage all the interactions. It looks like an interesting way to stay on top of classroom performance, therapy progress, and scheduling.

    Source: AT Coalition

    Blindsquare: App Uses Foursquare Data to Help the Blind Navigate Streets

    The 20 million+ people on Foursquare have created an incredibly detailed crowdsourced directory. BlindSquare is a new app that’s making use of Foursquare’s 2 billion check-ins worldwide to help blind pedestrians find locations on foot or while using public transportation.
    BlindSquare integrates Foursquare data with Apple’s nativeVoiceOver technology to create a location-based virtual map through sound. When the app is enabled, it reads addresses, street names and surrounding locations aloud. Directions are available on demand.
    “Basically it speaks what’s around you and if you want to go somewhere it will give guidance,” Finland-based app creator Ilkka Pirttimaa tells Mashable. ”When they travel on a bus, they don’t normally know where to get of. Now, they can hear surroundings and even street crossings when [the] bus is making a turn.”
    The app is available in the Apple iTunes store for $14.99. The high cost covers the right to use Acapela’s speech synthesis technology that turns text into speech on different devices, according to developers.
    BlindSquare was conceptualized and created in six months. Pirttimaa calls it a mashup of GPS technology, speech synthesis, crowdsourced data through Foursquare and augmented reality with audio.
    “You launch the app whenever you need assistance,” he says. “If blind person is in the area, which she doesn’t know, BlindSquare will help to ‘draw a map’ with information about streets and crossings and services around you.”
    The technology was built to help blind individuals in unfamiliar areas. BlindSquare draws a map of information about surrounding streets, crossings and services nearby. Categories within the app include arts and entertainment, colleges, food, great outdoors, nightlife spots, residences, shops and travel.
    Foursquare map points show up ranked by number of check-ins.
    “BlindSquare reports the most popular restaurants, cafes, etc.,” he says. ”So, it’s not just listing places around. BlindSquare helps you to make sense what’s around you.”
    Guide dogPirttimaa tested the app with blind individuals in Finland, the U.S. and Australia. One of the volunteers who tested the app used an iControlPad bluetooth gaming control to navigate within the app. The BlindSquare user attached the control to a guide dog’s harness.

    Users can enhance the application with recommended accessories. Pirttimaa suggests using a bone conduction head set, “which leaves users’ ears open” to natural sounds. Any bluetooth-based remote can be used to control the system.
    The application is available for global use or wherever Foursquare data is available. The app also utilizes data from OpenStreetMap — an wiki-map of the world that anyone can edit. The app with speech synthesis technology supports 26 languages including English, Finnish and Swedish.

    BlindSquare Test SubjectThe app even lets individuals who can’t see the screen check in to Foursquare. Pirttimaa says: “Blind people love Foursquare, too. It’s simple. Just shake the device and you hear where you are [at] an address, or nearest crossing. If you are at some Foursquare place, you can re-shake to check in.”
    For more about the BlindSquare app, here’s the user guide provided by Pirttimaa.
    Images courtesy of BlindSquare