Living Visually Impaired in Prescott Arizona — The 2013 Story

May 22, 2013

See the accompanying Links for Living Visually Impaired in Prescott.

Living Visually Impaired in Prescott Arizona — The Story

If your vision is beyond correction by traditional medical and optical procedures, if you are anticipating this situation, or you are assisting someone like this, you need resources and training known as “Vision rehabilitation”. Good news! Technology and well known practices offer great techniques to reduce many vision limitations to inconveniences if you’re willing to tackle the learning curve. Bad news! Prescott is limited in its access to rehabilitation personnel, awareness of possibilities, and diffusion of people who can help each other.


Below are resources collected by a person who maintains independence and vision loss coping skills after reaching legal blindness 8 years ago. With plenty of room to improve the community resources, please consider action, suggestions and collaboration possibilities for everybody losing vision in these days of abundance of technology and information sharing.

What is Vision Rehabilitation

Useful techniques range from marking appliance settings by sticky dots through using a smart phone to read books, identify money denominations, and manage phone contacts. “Active Daily Living” refers to these sticky dot tricks and myriad organizational tasks formerly taken for granted. Serious safety concerns are addressed as “Orientation and Mobility Training” for climbing stairs, walking with the miraculous long white cane, and crossing streets. Gaining or maintaining computer skills requires adapting to magnification or audio interaction or the adventure of mastering assistive apps on a touch screen smart phone. New interpersonal skills come into play when a conversation partner must be identified by voice or sighted assistance must be requested. All these are conquered by learning and practice, leaving only the misery of transportation until the day of civilized public transit or affordable driverless cars.

Where does one start?

When the page text becomes wiggly or haze surrounds you or objects jump into your path, eye doctors may help for a while, but normal aging effects and eventual vision rehabilitation should not be denied. A great starting place is MDSupport.org with ongoing discussions of treatments, vitamins, iPads, good lamps, photography, travel, comfort, and just about everything a Macular Degenerate lives with. Care-givers and eye professionals are welcome and guide books and tips abound. This member since 1998 checks in daily on a mailing list and refers everybody in low vision land to this community.

Locally, here are resources beyond the vision medical professionals who do not customarily offer vision rehabilitation as described above. Veterans have great residential training in Tucson. Students grow through school disability services and special education programs. People seeking jobs have state Department of Economic Services special programs and assistance to work. Otherwise retired people must generally develop and implement their own rehabilitation programs.


  • People Who Care offers seminars introductions to topics in Vision Rehabilitation and Causes of Vision Loss. Limited transportation and other elder support services are also available.
  • Georgeanne Hanna is a contact with and certified rehabilitation contractor for state services that also assist retired individuals. Her phone is 928-775-5857. Watch for Public Service Announcements. Orientation and mobility trainers can be imported at state expense upon request.
  • Yavapai Guidance Clinic has offered disability emotional support groups.
  • New Horizons Independent Living center provides a broad spectrum of independent living services and a transportation system based in Prescott Valley.
  • Yavapai Library Network sites may have assistive computers and computer mentor training. Contacts are available for the National Library service “talking books” program.
  • YC OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) offers occasional workshops on vision and hearing loss adaptation. Summer 2013 includes “Using Things That Talk” demonstrations and a documentary movie.
  • Prescott Fine Arts Theater honors requests for front row seating for visually impaired people and companions.
  • Lions clubs underwrite medical and optical services for low income persons and occasional publicity events. Some localities may provide grants for assistive technology and vision rehabilitation trainers.
  • Former organizations now defunct include: Northern Arizona Vision and Hearing Loss, “old blind center”, Yavapai Association for Blind and Visually Impaired (YABVI), “new blind center”. Check out carefully Daily Courier articles for dates referring to any possibly defunct vision organization.

In summary, People Who Care Confident Living Seminars and state DES rehabilitation coordinators are the primary currently active resources. A mobile person losing vision should also consider relocating to gain a full multi-month training program from a facility such as Southern Arizona Association for Visually Impaired, see saavi.us.

What help is available from government?


  • AZ Department of Economic Services supports a local vision rehabilitation professional (see above) special services for vocational training, and limited assistive technology. An online directory is available.
  • Many cities have a Disability Services Coordination council based in the Mayor’s office. Is there a Prescott contact?
  • The American Disability Act (A.D.A.) has been in law over 20 years, although “civil rights laws are not self-enforcing”. Websites disability.gov and Disability Scoop track federal government A.D.A. developments.
  • with A.D.A. enforcement, airlines, banks, and hospitals have trained personnel for providing equitable services. Notable within Prescott are bank “talking tellers” for automated cash withdrawal (e.g. Chase Bank).
  • social Security offers documents and transmittals in electronic formats on CD.

What do blindness support organizations offer?


  • The American Council for the Blind (ACB) and National Federation of the Blind (NFB) advocate and educate on blindness issues that benefit people with all kinds of vision loss. State affiliates hold annual conferences and support local chapters (but not currently in Prescott).
  • The American Federation for the Blind (AFB) has special websites for seniors and is affiliated with the Vision Aware service. A monthly newsletter evaluates technology
  • MDSupport.org specializes in macular degeneration with myriad free downloadable guides and an ongoing support mailing list.
  • Books and newspapers are available from Bookshare.org, with a library of 200,000 fiction/nonfiction, adult/adolescent volumes readable on the website or downloadable to book readers. The NFB NewsLine offers national newspapers and magazines in various formats and reading services. National Library (NLS) provides narrated books played on special readers (free) or mobile devices.

How about technology?


  • PC and Mac computers have built-in magnification and voice support. For Mac, VoiceOver is a click away while for PC a free NVDA package is easily installed. Various $1000 commercial products offer versatile magnification and audio with support and training. These “screen readers” enable a synthetic voice to speak web pages, documents, and buttons or typing. The technology is great, but the learning curve is steep and trainers are scarce.
  • Elegant hand-held devices can read books from NLS or Bookshare, notably Victor Reader Stream and BookSense. Amazon Kindle and Nook devices are regrettably not usable without sighted assistance.
  • The smart phone has put mainstream devices into the hands of people without full vision but with sufficient hearing. The iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch have Voice Over built in to read buttons as fingers glide across the screen as well as text in mail and web pages. Book reader apps from Bookshare, Nook, and Amazon enable downloading and listening to books, magazines, and documents. Special apps provide walking navigation, location awareness, remote identification of photographed objects, reading money, and other assistive tools. Many games and apps are fully accessible and speech recognition increasingly replaces keyboarding. Alas, the Android family of smart phones lags Apple devices, but does provide many limited capabilities. Verizon offices can set up these products but trainers and patience are required for full mastery.
  • The blindness communities maintain a “Internet radio network” of interviews, demonstrations, and advice on all topics related to vision loss and especially technology. The iBlinkRadio app on iPhone and Android is a great portal. Accessibleworld.org, EyesOnSuccess.net, and Hadley.edu have highly informative weekly updates. These are MP3 files for subscription and downloading as podcasts via iTunes or podcatcher apps.
  • Hand-held readers also serve as recorders for presentations, memos, and bookmarks. Some also provide radios with audible controls.
  • Audio labelsing devices provide means for recording contents of files and food cans. Color identifiers, GPS systems, and thermostats exist to overcome daily eye sight annoyances.

  • Twitter social media is a river of news about technology and blindness under the keyword #accessibility and people like slger123 and all major vision-related organizations and federal agencies.

Where can I get more information on vision rehabilitation in the Prescott region?

Further links and updates from this handout are online at http://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com or search for “visually impaired Prescott Arizona”. Essays depict the vision self-rehabilitation and personal lessons learned from the world beyond Prescott substantiating the selected resources here, notably MDSupport, Bookshare, and white cane travel.


Isn’t it time Prescott had full service vision rehabilitation for retired people with vision loss? For an example, see saavi.us, the Southern Arizona Association for Visually Impaired. Following the MDSupport motto “No one should leave an eye doctor’s office thinking their situation is hopeless”, vision loss is a journey of learning and adaptation and challenges that build on established rehabilitation practices and abundant technology if only the community realizes these potentials.


By mail and email, we are attempting to provide a more thorough, accurate, and timely resource page. Please send corrections and additions to slger123 @gmail.com or leave a message 928.848.9292 or 928.445.6960.

Links and Other Posts

See the accompanying Links for Living Visually Impaired in Prescott.


Relevant posts:

Why is accessibility so hard? Glad you asked!

November 28, 2012

Dear President of ACM Vint Cerf:


In your article “Why is Accessibility so hard?” , you invited comments and received many valuable references and opinions from other non-members of ACM. However, anonymous comments like mine seem not to be appearing since submitted for review after November 8. I worked hard on this little piece and have some constructive suggestions along the lines of an important ACM computing themes, namely “computational thinking”. As a former member of ACM, thoroughly disgusted by the un usability of the ACM Digital Library and haphazard HTMl of acm.org, I was hoping to find a genuine thread of change. So, not knowing if my submitted comment below is stifled or just dropped off your radar of comment reviewing, here’s my advice anyway.

Analyzing the computing field accessibility deficit

Thanks for asking. My “As Your World Changes” blog has myriad suggestions for overdue change to accessibility practices within computing:

My favorite resources — great reading

As a late life vision loser,and ex-ACM member, I hope the previously commented resources expand your frames of reference. Please add my favorites:(1 Wendy Chisholm and Matt May, “Universal Design for Web Applications” book; (2) WebAim.org screen reader user survey, WAVE accessibility checker, and pages of excellent practical advice; (3) the “accessibility virtual water cooler” linked by #a11y and #accessibility on Twitter; (4) the iBlinkRadio Android and IOS app portal to podcast and communities for visually impaired tech users; (5) a personable informative Rochester-based Viewpoints radio/podcast on products and daily living tips for vision loss. at http://viewpointsplus.net

Quintessential challenges: computational thinking and omitted requirement accelerating costs

Why do some think accessibility is hard? The good news is that we have at hand the quintessential “computational thinking” situation and mental tools for tackling much of accessibility. The bad news is another quintessential situation: the software economics of increasing cost of re mediating a missing requirement. Furthermore, attitudes are exacerbated by ignoring maturing web standards and disengagement from high performing professionals with disabilities in the assistive technology industry. ACM has also fostered an image of social exclusiveness through its misguided touting of the wonders of the “NO BLIND ALLOWED” symbol CAPTCHA (as if these magically warded off intruders other than us). How much of the difficulty is social rather than technological?

Remediation opportunity: learn by fixing your own website

Luckily the remediation opportunities for learning through and fixing accessibility flaws are readily available. Start with typing your institution, personal, or favorite web page into http://wave.webaim.org. This free and instantly usable analyzer will highlight the semantic structure of the page meaningful to screen reader users like me. It’s highly likely you’ll also expose accessibility deviations from standards. Common zits are: unlabeled form elements leaving me wondering what to enter in the edit box; non informative link like “click here” that require reading the context; missing or mis-ordered headings that obscure the page outline, forcing me into tabbing among HTML elements linearly without a comprehensive outline for discovery and navigation; or graphics without descriptions as to purpose and content. Does your experimental analysis make you wonder why web developers didn’t follow even these simple rules of accessibility? If you’re accountable for the page, like this very one from acm, then how should you change your process, contractors, or attitudes if better accessibility is really a goal?

Remediation Opportunity: Establish CSEdWeek challenges

Here’s another experiment I’ve performed myself (see blog posts). Computer Science Education Week is a big publicity deal for prestige and recruitment into a presumably non-discriminatory profession. Are there at least minimal standards for accessibility of partner web sites? Is the language inclusive, at least recognizing that pedagogical tools like Alice are problematic and that CAPTCHAs on the contact page are offensive? A little bit of shame and accountability can be shared by all if we no longer act like accessibility is always hard but rather start fixing simple problems, learning along the way.

Remediation Opportunity: Listen to people who daily conquer accessibility challenges

One more opportunity is to cross the disability social engagement boundary and actually sit down with somebody who uses the wondrous technology available. You can familiarize yourself for freeze by installing the world class NVDA Windows screen reader, turning on VoiceOver on a Mac or IOS device (triple click home). Here’s a “computational thinking” experiment: can you gain the same information sighted or blind folded? Why not? what do you have to learn to communicate, hold in memory, sequence differently, or give up on? How do you feel when offered an unlabeled button? Where do you go to learn new Techniques and good practices (hint: applevis.com and iBlinkRadio app)? Really, visually impaired folks can talk, explain, and share their joy using technology as well as constructive frustrations. Just ask!.

The Remaining Challenge after Remediation: absorbing complex information

Ok,there is one class of challenging problem beyond myriad simple accessibility rules and negligent process instances mentioned. Complex data structures like tables are memory taxing without vision and graphs and charts and animations require alternative sensory representations. Again, this is computational thinking as in concrete or multiple representations of the underlying information and semantics. Why doesn’t ACM offer a prize for advances here, which also might help everybody better consume visual information?

Take heart, all you future vision losers, as resources abound

Finally, to the many of you who will be losing vision in late career or retirement? Take heart, there’s never been a better time! You must locate whatever vision rehabilitation services are available locally, like Lighthouse or Independent Living but don’t let the strange web of state and charity “helpers” limit you. Macular degenerates can find a veritable wikipedia of practical and emotional sustenance at http://mdsupport.org. The podcasted media of Main Menu ACBRadio, Seratech perspectives (iBlinkRadio), and the TechDoctor can ease you into product assessment and sharing the joys of now abundant mainstream products. An iPod Touch is a great “gateway drug” into this world if you haven’t already been bitten by the Apple bug. Becoming print disabled isn’t all bad, because you are now eligible for near free daily newspapers and libraries of thousands of easily downloadable books for synthetic speech reading on devices and apps far better than sighted users buy. Yes, there’s a monster learning curve, but we technologists are well positioned for this one more life adjustment. If we can now get our profession into the solution side rather than producing more generations of uneducated students accepting such poor role models as acm.org, then we might even be able to contribute better our valuable experience to a professional society that understands disabilities as computational thinking differences.

summary from my decade of adjustment to vision loss using technology with class:

get cracking on learning about accessibility by fixing simple, obstructive, instructive problems. Listen to accessibility professionals and high performing persons with disabilities who offer their spirited advice through social media. Only then will the goals of ACM style research be brought to fruition and we will identify the intrinsic difficulty of accessibility.

Yours, in respect and hope for change, finally

Susan L. Gerhart, retired visionary computer scientist and myopic macular degenerate
slger123@gmail.com
blog on adjusting to vision loss: http://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com

ollli

April 9, 2012

20120409-123833.jpg

Prescott Needs a Community Inclusive Disability Council

January 1, 2012

Scooter and Sticky Analyze Their Community Disability Life Situations

Scooter and Sticky are enjoying their occasional Gimp girl luncheons at Ted’s Pizza on the Square. Taking turns interviewing each other about their respective disabilities, services, adjustments, and continuing constructive life style changes orchestrates their rambling. They both admire the statement from the White House lawn celebrating 20th anniversary of the A.D.A. that “Civil rights are not self-enforcing”. However, practical daily life strategies for different disabilities vary greatly and consume so much energy. Their discussions challenge them back on their respective tracks toward goals within shifting social systems neither fully understands. It’s scooter’s turn to quiz Sticky to organize her recent experience

  1. Scooter:
    Hey, how’s your perennial search for services comparable to SAAVI in Tucson or Lighthouses around the country?

    Sticky:
    Growl. As far as I can tell, New Horizons is still the main game in town, actually way out there in PV. Yet another vision specializing occupational therapist closed up her practice, and I’ll miss her. New Horizons and some other “vendors” held a Low Vision Expo at the Adult Center where I met some new Vision Losers, but I’m not appraised of the exhibit’s after effects. I met a home schooling mom of two children with disabilities in the PPL elevator who confirmed my experience. It’s hard to get services except by piggybacking on vocational rehab or school special ed if you are retired.

    I just keep wondering how many other folks like me are out there looking for services, not even sure what they really need. Who in Prescott would have stats on my, or your disabilities, like how many diagnosed and how many being served? And how do people get referred around the state, medical, charity, nonprofit, etc. like groups? Somebody must know, but our intuitions raise the right questions.

  2. Scooter:
    Don’t the eye doctors handle that? You mean, they don’t address like how your life changes and where to get help?

    Sticky:
    Not often in my experience. One referred me to Second Sight rehab but that operation is long gone. Usually they send you off to the Phoenix based Low Vision practices which offer high priced reading equipment as well as magnifier thingys. But nobody on the medical side seems to have a charge code for dealing with life changing effects of their diagnoses.

    My best source for about 15 years has been MDSupport.org, run by retired music teacher Dan Roberts. His motto is that “no patient should leave after a diagnosis feeling it’s hopeless”. That website and mailing list is a Wikipedia of vision-related information and the mailing list for Macular Degenerates regularly connects cool people and their diverse experiences. But the docs ignore anything not optical or retinal and live over in another silo. This predicament is national, really international, so MdSupport helps patients prepare questions to prod information out of the medical people.

    There’s also locally People Who Care seminar on Confident Living that introduces vendors if you happen to hear of it by word of mouth or Daily Courier notices. This is good introductory information but progressive vision loss means continued learning new skills for the rest of our lifetimes. I’m proof of how much a motivated person can learn on her own, but, let me tell you, it’s really hard work for my family as well as myself.

  3. Scooter:
    So, exactly what kinds of services are you talking about?

    Sticky:
    First, and foremost, is OMT, Orientation and Mobility Training. Like how to use my precious $35 white cane, clamber up stairs, find buildings, and, horrors, cross streets. I had to wait a year after getting put on the list for state paid OMT specialist Kim in Sedona but she retired or quit. Finally, I broke down at the People Who Care seminar I went to and got lined up for lessons with a Special Ed OMT person during the summer. Those few lessons gave me independence and staved off isolation, with Yavapai College as my main OMT practice area and now playground for courses at OLLI. Ironic that the cost of that OMT would be far less than any single trip to the ER! but OMT isn’t generally available.

    Other stuff Lighthouse and SAAVI do are called ADL, Active Daily Living, like cooking, labeling clothes, signing checks, and other things you never thought about needing to learn. Braille literacy and computing technology, too, of course. My favorite Prescott helper,, probably unknown to anybody else, is the Talking ATM at Chase Bank – plug in ear buds, listen to menus, punch the keypad, and walk off with your cash. Beautiful!

  4. Scooter:
    A lot of that sounds like regular training to upgrade your skills. How do you keep up? What are all those gadgets you carry around?

    Sticky:
    For years I’ve listened to podcasts which I automatically download to hear recorded demonstrations, interviews, group discussions, even book clubs, all organized by Blind people. Like Main Menu from the American Council for the Blind, AccessibleWorld.org community rooms, and Blind Cool Tech. It took some mind warping, but I crossed a cultural boundary when I discovered how much the Blind could teach me living partially sighted.

    A friend took me to exhibits spread across several hotels at LAX showing all the assistive tech products I’d heard about on podcasts. Even Stevie Wonder showed up at one booth I was scouting. So, I bought a lot of listening devices and shifted all my reading, TV watching, and writing to using these audio feedback hand-held gadgets. Here, this black phone looking box, called a BookSense, has over 1000 books I’ve collected from Bookshare, a volunteer and publisher supported distribution system. For $50 annual BookShare fees, I also get NYTimes best sellers and NewsLine NYTimes, Washington Post, New Yorker, and more. Reading just keeps getting better and rarely causes me much hassle.

    Now, this past year, I’ve picked up the iPhone, really a little computer with an ecosystem of apps that merge specialized assistive tech into the mainstream. Like, my iPhone tells me currency, sends away pictures I cannot identify for near instant interpretation, plays my podcasts, scrolls my Twitter TimeLine, and also reads books and news. A little voice tracks my fingers moving on the screen and gives me complete control of the device.

    My computer setup is a simple Windows netbook, costing about $300, with a free screen reader to feedback my keyboarding and speak out text on the screen. I think I spent about $1500 in 2011, not as much as most years, for upgrades, new tech, and services. Students and employees get more expensive stuff through tax paid funds, boosting prices in the so-called disability-industrial complex, so people like me are paying out of our retirement funds. Ouch, but worth it!

  5. Scooter:
    So, you must be a great community resource! Do you give courses in this tech wizardry?

    Sticky:
    sure I do offer but most people losing vision have trouble making this tech transition. Our brains have to shift from seeing to hearing and most people want to hang on using vision as long as possible. Magnifying from their computers works, but is very slow. I’ve helped a trainer from New Horizons learn the computer screen reader I use, called NVDA. But there isn’t a critical mass of local users like me to convince new Vision Losers to try mysterious gadgets and overcome what I’ve dubbed Synthetic Voice Shock.

    Honestly, it’s lots of hard work to learn all this, took me many months on each gadget to get comfortable. We need more teachers and understanding of how this tech works. My best experiences have been a 2 hour session on “Using Things That talk” at OLLI. And I have a nicely organized collection of the podcasts I’ve learned from that I can distribute on DVD or 4GB flash drive.

  6. Scooter:
    If I understand you correctly, most of what you Vision Losers need is out there, but not integrated into any location in Prescott, let alone understood by the medical profession. What is the crux of this problem?

    Sticky:
    It’s like the whole system is broken, locally. Nationally there may be a serious lack of trained vision rehab specialists,made worse by geographical distribution. It takes enough consumers, i.e. Vision Losers like me, to support these services, but there also must be a healthy referral chain from eye doctors and sharing of personnel among retirees, employment seekers, and students. It’s a mess! And nobody has the stats out in the public of this city to help understand how big a mess!

    Now, remember, this isn’t charity we need. Occasional potlucks or outings might be nice, but personally I want to maintain and grow my relationships among people with broad interests, like AAUW and YC OLLI, and maybe even an OCCUPY or political sideline. Plus family and remote friends.

    Of course, lack of public transportation is a major barrier, but asking for that invites a smack down. “Costs too much! Gotta keep every street re paved and broadened and make people think this is a great place to retire”. That brings up another topic, about how much money is really sitting around in nonprofits or federal funds or raised annually that could generally improve services? Who knows? Who cares?

    One cool idea I’ve heard about elsewhere is an “Aging in Place Concierge” service. I actually used something like this in Tucson, called Red Rose, two women operators who would do whatever you needed for flat rates, like $35/hr. Pet sitting, rides, mail sorting, light repair, whatever plus knowing the existence and quality of services for outsourcing. I’d love to find that in Prescott!

  7. Scooter:
    I heard about some new communications practices that seemed important, like preventing loss of life as in Katrina. Did you participate in an emergency preparedness test last year?

    Sticky:
    No, was there one? I think it’s the national Broadband.gov effort in the FCC that is rolling out those tests. Like not relying only on radio and those scrolling lines on TV screens I cannot read will be replaced by a system sending notices in forms I could use, including ring tones, vibrations, and text messages on my iPhone. But communities have to take responsibility for linking up with the funding and implementation of that national provision. Who in Prescott does that? Where do I sign up?

    Out of curiosity last year, I joined in listening to the White House Disability monthly conference call. Lots of info, like transportation regulation changes, oh, wait, not to worry there. But medical, independent housing, broadband, education, across the board good stuff is happening. But not locally unless someone is on their toes to learn and spread the word. Who would that be?

  8. Scooter:
    Just wondering, do you ever hear the A.D.A. mentioned in your circles within Prescott?

    Sticky:

    Oh, the YRMC got a little play in the Daily Courier and a big notice in DisabilityScoop and Disability.gov last year. Actually, it sounds like they did the right thing, training their personnel, after a deaf complaint denying ASL. I wonder if that training is available at other city sites.

    It would also be interesting to know how many A.D.A. complaints and grievances have been filed and how they were resolved. Like the VA, colleges, and city parks and streets are covered. YC campus is pretty habitable, at least for this long cane walker. However, I don’t understand how anybody on scooter or wheelchair or care-giver arm can negotiate those advertising placards in front of every store downtown. Often I get stuck among them, the benches, and plants or run smack into oncoming pedestrian or bike traffic as I decide which way to go around those damned barriers. Another common problem is construction on sidewalks, like how am I to know how to get around a ditch or find another route? And, ice on sidewalks and bridges gives me weeks of Cabin Fever, missing my 1.5 mile daily walk on those blessed smooth streets. But who do you contact about these problems
    , trying to avoid a formal complaint? Do you know?

    Hey, Scooter, do you know the term TAB, as in Temporarily Able Bodied? Not like other civil rights, disability is a category anybody can join any time. And everybody will join if they live long enough. Plus, disability doesn’t happen just to individuals but also to that person’s family, friends, and colleagues. Yes, disability should be a universal concern.

  9. Scooter:
    sounds like there are Lucky Vision Losers who won the lottery being located near services. And then there are Unlucky Vision Losers stuck in a frayed web of confusing groups with no central organization looking after them?
    What do other cities and regions do?

    Sticky:
    A quick web search turns up many “Mayor Disability Council” where city offices, disability service vendors, charities, and, most important, disabled people themselves. You can even listen in on recordings of the San Francisco Disability Council, with transit, independent living, A.D.A. complaints, and more on the agenda with feedback and suggestions from “consumers”, i.e. people with disabilities, many far worse than you and I experience.

  10. Scooter:
    Eureka! Let’s get together with more representatives of other disabilities and form some kind of Community Council that really addresses these problems we’ve been talking about.

    Sticky:
    Great idea! Read on fora draft to get us started. Educate! Advocate! Liberate!

Prescott Arizona Really Needs a Disability Council


  1. Collect and publicize data on services available, services provided, and services needed
  2. Publicize and implement federal and state guidelines and mechanisms, such as emergency preparedness
  3. Coalesce and channel charity, nonprofit, federal/state/city funds toward services as articulated by citizens with disabilities
  4. Match citizens with disabilities to boards, advisory groups, city committees, etc.
  5. Publicize and accept A.D.A. complaints and grievances and promulgate resolutions
  6. Support peer communication among people with different as well as same disabilities and common needs
  7. Provide public training on organizing events, managing facilities, and communicating with persons with disabilities

What do other cities do with their disability services and citizens with disabilities?

Chatanooga Mission Statement

The Mayor’s Council on Disability’s overall mission is to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures that give equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability; and to empower individuals with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society.

Retire CAPTCHA style thinking, please

December 26, 2011

This is my annual post evaluating progress, if any, in accessibility as measured by the Congressionally recognized Computer Science Education Week outreach website. This year, oh, my, the tone of non-inclusiveness rings so loud and clear.

Regarding the NSF CISE Bits and Bytes article touted by CCCBlog honoring CSEdWeek

Did you know that the *you* of the NSF article touting re CAPTCHA doesn’t include teachers, students, researchers, citizens, and other **subhumans* with sensory or cognitive differences that limit their abilities to pass the barrier of those wiggly lines? Did you know that buying tickets, signing up for social media, commenting on websites, or applying for jobs is a privilege denied to many people otherwise fully human? Did you know the “evil CAPTCHA” is a symbol like drawing a bar across the universal wheelchair badge?

Do you know the stats of qualified individuals not in the CS field due to problems with inaccessible teaching materials, practices, pedagogical tools, and inexperience working with students with different abilities? do you know extraordinary blind developers Mic and James awarded FCC recognition for a free screen reader replacing expensive assistive technology and opening the doors for millions around the world thru NVAccess.org open source project? Do you realize the opportunity loss that educational settings suffer when those who don’t pass the CAPTCHA test aren’t present thereby perpetuating generations of students not exposed to universal design principles and evidence of their benefits?

I’m one of those subhumans excluded by re CAPTCHA, with strong karma from my earlier days as a sighted researcher and educator. May I invite you to another world “beyond the CAPTCHA”.

  • Download iBlinkRadio app for your smart phone to listen to loads of upbeat geek talk on the technology that enables full lives within blind communities. Notice the appreciation for Apple’s strides in usability of mobile products. TrippleClickHome to turn on VoiceOver to go where your eyes aren’t needed.
  • Link through #a11y or #accessibility to Tweetups of professionals who work for inclusion through computational thinking.
  • Read up on good engineering from Chisholm and May “Universal Design for Web Applications” book and dozens of blogs and YouTube videos.
  • You might run across WebVism and Solana social responses to the “evil CAPTCHA” and positive crowd sourcing apps like VizWiz and its companions on AppleVis.com.

Wow, what people outside computer science research and education have accomplished for their own survival and advancement, despite CAPTCHA style thinking.

so, I took my dismay at the NSF/CCC non-inclusive perspective to the CSEdWeek feedback page. Lo, I could not post due to a visual only or something CAPTCHA! What were you thinking, computing association managers, to not require and test for accessibility when you so high mindedly push outreach from the computing field? The Top 10 CCC posts are truly impressive, but the humanity of the computing field exemplifies the world of TAB (temporarily abled body) thinking. It’s great if reCAPTCHA does a bit of good for resurrecting print archives, but there’s an even better story in great technology, social interaction, hard work, and stamina to dismantle the artificial barriers like wiggly lines and garbled audio. And, really, who would think there aren’t ways to pay $.50 to web workers to attack those yet un scrabbled text fragments?

How about making 2012 CSEdWeek truly inclusive? Require and test for accessibility of your websites and messages with modern practices and involving real students, educators, researchers, and citizens with more physical and cognitive diversity than the TAB world promoted so far. No, this isn’t a $10M research initiative but rather remedial work to bring thinking and practices up to a modern level of respect for civil rights and the crucial role of usable technology for everyone.


Retire the CAPTCHA style mentality,, please.

  1. Computing Community Consortium empowering U.S. research

  2. NSF CISE newsletter touting reCAPTCHA using computation with properly equipped humansFunder of BPC, Broadening Participation in Computing
  3. Computer Science Education Week outreach events, needs an accessibility statement and commitment
  4. FCC Broadband Accessibility initiative and winners including home of free open source screen reader NVDA
  5. Is CS Education ready to honor the A.D.A.? the EDUCAUSE perspective

  6. Will CS meet accessibility in 2011? Long way to go!

A Notable, Inimitable Woman: Helen Keller, 1880 – 1968

March 22, 2011

Here is an outline of my research for a course on Notable Women last session at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Yavapai College. I was fascinated by the question: what happened to the rest of her life after the incidents portrayed in the “Miracle Worker” plays and movies. As my reading progressed to reveal her decades of activist publication and public attention, the deeper question became “how did she cognitively process so many other writings and human contacts into coherent and relevant materials that sustained her spirit and finances?”.


speaking personally, as I’ve portrayed earlier in this blog, I have rewired my brain to read and write differently without using vision. Now, the Internet and trusty screen readers and RSS clients bring me loads of information, but I still find it difficult to organize even a small article like this post. Keller published many articles in popular publications like “Ladies Home Journal” but she also emoted some very fine rants on socialism, unions, suffrage, and disability civil rights.


Answering my questions from the resources below, especially the New Yorker article, she: mastered French and German at Radcliffe; read European newspapers; always had personal assistants; selected topics of interest for her human readers to communicate by hand tapping, lip reading, or Braille translation; wrote sections on a Braille typewriter, assembled and edited with assistance; wrote and received copious letters in the style of the time; made friends with Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, and the presidents du jour; traveled extensively; and generally got around a lot. Whew! But still, how does one assemble a model of the world coming without hearing or seeing? The New Yorker article portrays her cognitive functioning as much like poetry or highly flowery narrative. That is, she took in facts and physical object descriptions, asked questions, built a sense of her surroundings, and embellished with imagination constrained by her editorial assistants. Yet, there is such a difference experiencing the situation of labor unions from a film like “Norma Rae” and reading about sweat shops and factory safety mishaps. It still intrigues me that her reality matched sufficiently her colleagues and acquaintances that she could not only participate but also influence her times. Interestingly, some of that interaction came from a silent movie, vaudeville infomercial’s, and an attraction for press attention that vies with modern athletes and actors.


Yet, that same cognitive generative process caused lifelong doubts in others about her actual abilities versus the influences of Teacher and other assistants. A bizarre accusation of plagiarism arose at age 12 when professional pride and pettiness ran amok over a misunderstanding of originality of a story she told in a letter. Now, today we cannot get college students to differentiate copy-paste research from critical thinking, so one wonders how a 12-year-old could really appreciate the social significance of separating what one is told, holds in memory, and retrieves as a story gift from copyright and issues of attribution.


Well, anyway, if you wonder how minds work with different sensory limitations, take a look at the documentary on Youtube, the New Yorker analysis, and some of the cited oddball life passages.

Background</h3

Other facets not highlighted in documentary and popular bios

Finally, I think HK would have been great on Twitter, with pithy, passionate expressions of her daily insights, frustrations, and relationships. Happy 5th birthday, Twitter and many thanks to Accessible Twitter for keeping me in touch with the world.

Will Computer Science Meet accessibility in 2011?

January 18, 2011


I’m a legally blind retired computer scientist. As I gained proficiency with assistive technology for reading, writing, and communicating, I faced similar costs, barriers, grievances, and coping challenges as thousands of other computer adept late career people. However, I also take a keen interest in effectiveness and usability of my access tools and the media they work upon as a total system for processing information in our marvelously plastic brains. And, as former educator, researcher, and manager, I look upon my profession as contributors to both sides of the problem and solution arenas acting under broader social forces from government, demographics, and mainstream technology industries.


May I share my unique experience with you? Here’s my take on the current state of computer science (CompSci) related to Persons with disabilities (PwD)in general and the specific opportunities for visually impaired persons. Assistive technology refers to software like screen readers that use text to speech and keyboard focus interactions with operating systems, applications, and web pages. Accessibility is a matter of degree to which the applications, OS, and web sites support assistive technology. to achieve the same performance and satisfaction as all other users.

responsibilities, accountability, openness, and Opportunities for CompSci


are educational institutions now, in 2011, ready to embrace disability civil rights? Is the academic computing field prepared to integrate advances from the separated assistive technology industry and the generation of students raised with strong but different skill sets? Can CompSci meet its aspirations of providing the 4th R of education for everybody? Will there be movement to re-mediate decades of deficient designs of web information management systems and individual documents? where does CompSci and information technology fit into this solution, or problem, space?

basic accountability as an academic discipline


Like all educational fields that use web resources to assist education, the CompSci and IT fields are clearly responsible for adhering to standards that mitigate barriers for people with disabilities using available assistive technology. Especially where costs of access technology and special skills have been attained through rehabilitation resources or even individual investments, this is immediately a matter of jobs for PwD. Moreover, there are ripple effects for all intermittently or eventually disabled persons or caretakers, or tax payers, and that is everybody several times over.


Have our fields done well so far? No, as shown by flaws revealed traversing the 2010 Computer Science Education week and partner websites (see data below). These are rife with stumbling blocks, and generally exhibiting indifference to established design and usability practices. Barriers are unnecessarily erected, and unfortunate messages of ignorance and indifference indicate a field not so much up with trends in user oriented communication. or even acknowledging sensory differences in users.

domain responsibility of the CompSci field

CompSci and IT bear the additional responsibility of producing the tools, languages, and patterns; the programmers, designers, and testers; the processes, quality assessments, and design strategies; interfaces, interaction models, and transactions; the books, published articles, and motivations; and so on, that underlay the capabilities for educational institutions to meet their basic accountability.

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Further CompSci responsibilities are the development of cultures where people with disabilities exhibit their skills and tools to demonstrate how well they can produce software and hardware products and artifacts. Beyond Cultural integration is the need for domain knowledge, e.g. how screen readers and caption systems work and how artifacts must be designed for smooth operation by persons using assistive technology.


CompSci has often promoted pedagogical tools like Alice and scratch that explicitly bar people with certain disabilities getting equal footholds in and excitement about computing. Nevertheless, many people have not only become high functioning but also innovative regarding access technology, including the very products I’m using to write this article. A community of computing oriented professionals have banded together to produce the aforementioned standards, tools, processes, and businesses that await adoption by CompSci and IT.

Computational thinking opportunities await CompSci


In fact, the above strengths and weaknesses of the social motivation for overcoming limits for PwD are truly, really, beautifully illustrative of computational thinking. The widely used WCAG standards are a fledgling “science of accessibility” with tested hypotheses, guidelines,, terminology, and a blogging trail of intellectual progress. Good web pages are all about semantics: markup, logical structure, sound relationships (in a database sense), and progressive enhancement design to transform semantics with syntactic elements like color and graphics. The essence of accessibility is support for multiple representations where access tech supplements or replaces sensory limits. Abstraction, semantics, representations, implementations, relationships, … are the sound principles for achieving the technical aspects of basic accountability and additional responsibilities of computing fields.


Hey, take the challenge! What should CompSci and IT do?

  1. clean up our websites, a good goal for Cs education week 2011. Read the standards, use guidelines and tools to re-mediate and assess quality, then do the work. With remediation of technical zits will come a better understanding of the computational thinking issues that should lead to improved designs.
  2. Take responsibility for explaining disabilities and accessibility to educational colleagues. Incorporate local disability service professionals and
    enlist the fear and concerns of university management to assure resources.

  3. audit all pedagogical tools and artifacts and label each for sensory and disability limitations. Then progress toward the better products available while applying computational thinking for more universal representations.
  4. Use the competitive, exciting advances of tablets, smart phones, text to speech, and accessible apps to motivate and explain both how accessibility works and why it matters in our economy. Just open up the hood under the accessibility options and check out the high performing speech interfaces.
  5. Learn to talk with persons with disabilities about their
    needs, high functioning skills, innovative tools, and culture.

  6. Do not feel bad about lack of experience or past mistakes. We are all overdue with a dose of karma, such as this writer who cannot use or maintain security education applets I developed five years ago. Ouch!

.


Overall, let’s open up a new field of computing, pull publications out of the ACM pay wall, and lead the way through computational thinking.


why not?

Issues, evidence, and epiphanies

are the feds really coming after universities for inaccessibility?


The Obama administration departments of Justice and department of education Office of civil rights have certainly shown signs of action backed up by White House ceremonies and initiatives:


On the positive side, California state University system is often praised for its improvements. Sadly, a funded study of analysis of university web accessibility is hidden in an obscure journal.


If all this comes to fruition right under the noses of congress, regulatory and advocacy will open many doors for computing professionals with a bent toward social entrepreneurship and intriguing technology advances. By the way, the professional accessibility virtual water cooler spreads daily updates on Twitter .

What will happen if universities are forcefully or voluntarily driven into accessibility? We may know by 2012.

why hasn’t accessibility and assistive technology taken hold in computing research and education, ?


As a former educator, I’ll take the all purpose route of blaming the textbooks? One form of blame is the presentation of content as in printed tomes, derived from WORD documents, spruced up by publishers, and embellished with instructor power points all performed without consideration for readability by print disabled students. This forces, I’m not kidding, hundreds of pages to be scanned into electronic forms where most original MS-WORD structure is lost, i.e. hours of labor in an error prone incomplete reverse engineering process.

How dumb is that?well, nationally, this problem is being rectified by bookshare under a department of education contract to adapt, just once in an industrialized manner, many college and K-12 textbooks. However, there isn’t a similar well known cooperative effort specializing in computing texts, or efforts by publishers except for Oreilly Media contributions of its electronic versions directly to bookshare.


Now, consider textbook content itself. Are there any, like more than 0, standard computing texts that contain chapters and exercises on assistive technology and accessibility as recommended in standards and produced by specialized branches of software and publishing industries? Please comment any examples.


the root of all evil in textbooks goes back to curricula accreditation. Omitted there, and frozen into practice, accessibility principles are instead forced into industry workshops, such as Knowbility Access U and Open Web Education Alliance. This further differentiates career paths with web development considered a craft, combining touchy feebly communication, advertising fodder, turnkey content management systems, and a steady flow of freelance or in house jobs open to lesser educated mortals.


The irony is that web accessibility is one of the best exemplars of “computational thinking” that has driven some higher echelons of CompSci leaders. See my 2009 post on many ways accessibility and assistive tech put computational thinking in action for pedagogical practices.

really? is the W3C nurturing a “science of accessibility”?


Read the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guide 2.0 and “Universal Design for Web Applications” by Wendy Chisholm and Matt May for lively explanations and motivation for the WCAG standards.


There’s an amazing amount of thought hammered into shape and utility in these guidelines and scenarios on the w3C web site. Rather than tons of funded research projects to identify hypotheses and perform experiments and build prototypes, the standards bodies combine experiences from developers, authors, consultants, and gadflies who really care about their subject. social and technical consequences. Fights and personalities drive discussions toward articulation and analysis that don’t come out looking like ACM portal abstracts. Nevertheless, pick any recommended practice, e.g. headings and logical structure in web pages, and you’ll find rationale, practical hedges for difficulties, and the basis for better controlled and more academically rigorous investigations.


As for the actual academic research communities, there’s a strange legacy of publication practices that make it difficult to track the field. Conference papers disappear behind the ACM Digital Library Portal pay wall. Institutional and individual members of ACM have access that people like this retired researcher have to fork over $200 to reach. Even paying the ransom isn’t enough, as I found it exceedingly difficult to negotiate the search interface in the 2008 time frame, and without response to requests for assistance. In other words, the publication pay wall is an inhibitor to the spread of insight on accessibility from perfectly serious and hard working researchers. How silly is that?


The notable exception I track is the work of professor Richard Ladner at U. Washington research and outreach and his prolific junior colleague Jeffrey bigham, now at U. Rochester. WebInsight project publications are available as readable PDF’s organized well by topics and authors that offer the bulk of their funded research.. These publishable fundable research results are intelligible, related to the standards versions of their science, and especially interesting for a user of the technology attracted to computational thinking, i.e. me. But then the papers reference too often into the ACM portal black hole. Wouldn’t the field progress more rapidly if more people could read such publicly funded publications and appreciate the experimental models being applied?


One additional topic I tracked was an award winning paper mentioned in Professor bigham’s blog on web research, namely the collaborative accessibility project at IBM Japan. However, the best I could find was a useful Youtube video on “social accessibility”. Indeed, with additional perspectives from the grass roots operational social accessibility projects webvism community tagging and solana for cracking the evil CAPTCHA barriers facing visually impaired web users. Indeed, find screen reader and accessibility videos on Youtube including Easy Youtube since Youtube itself is marginally accessible.


another interesting area is accessible apps for apple and android mobile products. There are important engineering lessons here regarding accessibility integration into the architecture, with apple doing it well, Google trying to paste on its talkback capability, and Microsoft admitting it blew off accessibility in its win 7 phones. Google Android accessibility is dubbed the “Model T Syndrome” for not applying state of the art engineering techniques, expecting visually impaired consumers to wait years for reasonable functionality and usability.


Finally, for the serious minded computer theory connection, visit the IBM researcher and leading accessibility guru Jim Thatcher articles on practical standards in business as applied to Amazon.com, Target.com, and many .gov websites. This wealth of robust reasoning and decades of experience are truly awesome.

What’ is the evidence for bad accessibility practice in the computing field?


Here is a test you can perform yourself.


Start the CSED Week test in Web Aim WAVE analyzer. Yes, click that link and now you’ve been seduced into web page testing! Now, look for the link to Partners, click and see the errors there. Keep going for the partner websites, opening and analyzing each web site. Keep going and you will be amazed at the WAVE complaints as the page structures are revealed in their semantic nakedness.


Lots of errors, right??? Let me explain how the errors affect my reading using an interactive access tech “screen reader”, illustrated in recordings in the 2009 post.

  1. The “missing ALT description” error tells me the web site developers have no clue about accessibility, ignoring the most basic rule. Visually impaired people cannot know what’s in your graphic, why it’s there,if it is decorative or meaningful in context.
  2. At the higher level of page structure are errors in omitted headings, irregular heading levels, and uninformative headings. The basic problem for someone visually impaired is building a reliable map of a page to transform from a linear search by laboriously tabbing from one HTML element to another. The outline tells me quickly what’s on the page, just like the outline of any well written document. Rarely do I find a web page from a CompSci organization with a good outline, often omitting headings entirely. Another indicator is irregular headings, like H4-H1-H3 which usually indicate confusion among semantics of headers and font-style presentation issues better handled by style sheets.
  3. Unlabelled form elements can be a show stopper when leading a person and screen reader through a donation or purchase or registration form. The proper HTML has an explicit corresponded between label and element, call, duh, “Label”. Without labels, the user just hears “edit box” rather than “first name edit box”. Forms are really complex , often associated with transaction timeouts and monumental headaches locating and fixing errors. Again, there are good rules for creating usable forms, which the unlabelled form element error tells me the developer has ignored. Do they want my business?

  4. Standalone link names are important for, like headings, a link abstraction allows rapidly skimming for general context and specific refinements.”Click here”, “here”, “read more”, and “learn more” require the screen reader user to search around for context. See post “I don’t want to click here” for a humorous take on this annoying practice.
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Webaxe guide to introductions to accessibility and its demo podcasts is a good place to start and also entertaining. WebAim Web Accessibility in Mind also offers an annual empirical analysis of screen reader use and many checklists and guidelines. One caveat is that WAVE, although free and easy, is susceptible to flaws of any static analyzer with false hits, cascading errors, and interpretation of results. However, our tests show that it readily exposes often embarrassing mistakes just waiting for correction. My favorite was a major CompSci blog with hidden text offering Viagra remedies.


While many of these complaints relate primarily to technical communication, there are true design problems related to search tasks, as on the ACM Digital Library, and on large multi-organizational websites like universities. Beyond accessibility, as in supporting technology, are issues of bandwidth limitations, small screen mo vile devices, and user choices on browser script security. While not formalized as in “structured programming” or “object-oriented design”, the recommended engineering practice is “progressive enhancement”, starting from a purely semantic page that covers the basic content and separates presentation layers which a browser can strip away to assure the content is preserved in many contexts. It cannot be emphasized too much: the person using a screen reader is working directly with the semantic content provided by the developer. Designer focus on color, fonts, graphics, and interactivity are truly only “in the eyes of the sighted reader” and may add to but should not obscure the essential page content. and use cases. In other words, the analyses provided by tools like WebAim WAVE and even more important, the mental model in the person using a screen reader provide a favor to page designers by pointing out flaws.

And, is there any good news?


Definitely,when cultural divisions are bypassed, are growing assemblage of tools that enable someone losing vision to maintain their computer skills, provided they can access the training and guides to re-build their own environment. Admittedly, regaining capabilities after vision loss requires months of hard work, willingness to learn new approaches, and acceptance of major life changes.

  • AThe free, powerful, open source screen reader NVDA (NonVisual desktop access) competes with established $1000 pricey products on Windows platforms. I truly enjoy, and donate to, the mailing list of international users who daily test and share advice on this Australian generated project. Its developers are blind, primarily using python. These guys deserve a major computing award for their global contributions and professionalism in their twenty-something age ranges.
  • The miracle of Text to Speech that activates the hearing sense into an alternative channel into our brains where reading actually takes place. While older people may take more time to rewire their brains after vision loss,it’s truly remarkable that vision can be so minimalist in computer usage, provided accessibility is engineered into our software and information sources. Now, we’re poised to take on the challenge of “information visualization without vision”, seriously a cognitive and technological adventure in literacy and openness.
  • Bookshare and NFB News Line downloadable a alternative for print disabled services that brings literally 1000s of great books and daily newspapers to our fingertips in wireless seconds. Never did I imagine I could have such a great store of information to support my retirement book club, lifelong learning, and social entrepreneurship activities period. Materials are read by synthetic speech from DAISY, an XML based, international standard for audio and text content.
  • Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager and Docking Station, designed and distributed by a blind engineer, that streamlines my access to Bookshare, NewsLine, Twitter, email, and RSS. Most sighted, and now blind, people will enjoy an immense number of accessible iPad apps, a direction I’ll soon be taking myself.But the Icon sets a high bar of throughput I don’t expect to find on any other device by avoiding screens, using spoken menus and text reading. Another award worthy young technologist for CompSci to learn from.The implementation software for this handheld LINUX box is python and sqlite.
  • The #a11y Twitter community of accessibility gurus, blindness advocates,normal blind working folks, and inspiring authors lifts me up every day with humor and an unbelievable syllabus of linked readings. I never expected to find such a “School of Twitter” in social media that could fill my local personal and professional void. I especially value AccessibleTwitter website and demonstration for its common sense, ease of use, and challenge to the big clunky Twitter, which is, of course, the data source and API.

  • I’m also grateful for professional opportunities to potentially influence the direction of computing through the CMD-IT Center for Minorities and Disabilities in ITan, its Board of Advisers, and energetic organizer. I’ve written two other posts input to an NSF Task Force on CyberLearning, and hopefully await an insightful report.
  • Close to home, I appreciate the opportunity to connect with a few local disability professionals and volunteer groups. I’ve seen first hand how a broken rehab system requires enormous cooperation and energy to bring to ever more baby boomers losing vision the tools and experience I managed to find for myself. For all the $$$ spent on research, the chain of referrals and services beyond the medical plateau leaves so many of us just hanging on precariously while trying to find our ways through the inevitable grieving and depression cycles. It shouldn’t be this way in a
    wealthy world, requiring not charity but rather planned delivery of existing resources, as related in Jane Brody’s NYTimes articles on vision loss.

The 2011 CompSci Meets Accessibility Manifesto


And that latter point is where my disappointment with the handling of assistive technology and accessibility in computing has lead me to put considerable effort into writing up this critique. We just have to do better in accountability within institutions, domain responsibility for our professionals, and awareness of the depth of effectiveness of our computational thinking methods. Thousands of jobs depend directly on our outcomes for accessibility and quality computing products, plus centuries of better quality of life for everyone sooner or later. Let’s make accessibility meet computer science professionally in 2011.


We’re now at a teachable moment for assistive tech and accessibility in computing education. Everybody has the basic functions in their hands, literally, and for free. Windows users can download capable free open source NVDA screen reader and try testing web pages. Android and IOs users turn on their text to speech and learn credible NonVisual manners of using myriad interesting and useful apps. Come on, anybody can learn to work like a low vision person so the days of descending into the exorbitantly expensive blind ghetto for access tech is over. Anybody from now on who produces inaccessible pedagogical products or sloppy web pages is out of excuses. Your artifacts are testable, the testing tools are available, the engineering practices are wedded with the science of accessibility in standards. and people with sensory limitations like my hazy vision have those access tools at their fingertips, skilled and raring to use products made for mainstream but accessible if properly designed. So, failure to step up to this challenge and do the right thing, which really isn’t so hard and actually is good for business, is a choice of accountability, responsibility, and opportunity.

Beyond Universal Design – Through Multi-Sensory Representations

January 8, 2011

<The following recommendation was offered at the CyberLearning workshop addressed in the previous post on CyberLearning and Lifelong Learning and Accessibility. The post requires background in both accessibility and national funding policies and strategies.


This is NOT an official statement but rather a proposal for discussion. Please comment on the merits.

Motivation: CyberLearning must be Inclusive

To participate fully in CyberLearning, persons with disabilities must be able to apply their basic learning skills using assistive technology in the context of software, hardware, data, documentation,, and web resources. Trends toward increased use of visualizations both present difficulties and open new arenas for innovative applications of computational thinking.

Often, the software, hardware, and artifacts have not been engineered for these users, unforeseen uses, and integration with a changing world of assistive tools. Major losses result: persons with disabilities are excluded or must struggle; cyberlearning experiments do not include data from this population; and insights from the cognitive styles of diverse learners cannot contribute to the growth of understanding of cyberlearning.

Universal Design Goals

Universal design embodies a set of principles and engineering techniques for producing computational tools and real world environments for persons usually far different from the original designers. A broader design space is explored with different trade-offs using results from Science of Design (a previous CISE initiative). Computational thinking emphasizes abstraction to manage representations that lead to the core challenges for users with disabilities and different learning styles. For example, a person with vision loss may use an audio channel of information received by text to speech as opposed to a graphical interface for visual presentation of the same underlying information. The right underlying semantic representation will separate the basic information from its sensory-dependent representations, enabling a wider suite of tools and adaptations for different learners. This approach transcends universal design by tapping back into the learning styles and methods employed effectively by persons with many kinds of disabilities, which may then lead to improved representations for learners with various forms of computational and data literacy…

Beyond Universal Design as Research

beyond Universal Design” suggests that striving for universal design opens many research opportunities for understanding intermediate representations, abstraction mechanisms, and how people use these differently. This approach to CyberLearning interbreeds threads of NSF research: Science of design and computational thinking from CISE +human interaction (IRIS)+many programs of research on learning and assessment. +…

Essential Metadata Requirements

A practical first step is a system of meta-data that clearly indicates suitability of research software and associated artifacts for experimental and outreach uses. For example, a pedagogical software package designed to engage K-12 students in programming through informal learning might not be usable by people who cannot drag and drop objects on a screen. Annotations in this case may serve as warnings that could avoid exclusion of such students from group activities by offering other choices or advising advance preparation. Of course, the limitations may be superficial and easily addressed in some cases by better education of cyberlearning tool developers regarding standards and accessibility engineering.

Annotations also delimit the results of experiments using the pedagogical software, e.g. better describing the population of learners.

In the context of social fairness and practical legal remedies as laid out by the Department of Justice regarding the Amazon Kindle and other emerging technology, universities can take appropriate steps in their technology adoption planning and implementation.

Policies and Procedures to Ensure Suitable Software

For NSF, appropriate meta-data labeling then leads to planning and eventual changes in ways it manages its extensive base of software. Proposals may be asked to include meta-data for all software used in or produced by research. Operationally, this will require pro posers to become familiar with the standards and methods for engineering software for users employing adaptive tools. While in the short run, this remedial action may seem limiting, in the long run the advanced knowledge will produce better designed and more usable software. At the very least, unfortunate uses of unsuitable software may be avoided in outreach activities and experiments.
Clearly, NSF must devise a policy for managing unsuitable software, preferably within a 3 year time frame from inception of a meta-data labeling scheme.

Opportunities for Multi-Sensory Representation Research

Rather than viewing Suitable Software as a penalty system, NSF should find many new research programs and solicitation elements. For example, visual and on visual (e.g. using text-to–speech) or mouse version speech input representations can be compared for learning effectiveness. Since many persons with disabilities are high functioning in STEM, better understanding of how they operate may well lead to innovation representations.

Additionally, many representations taken for granted by scientists and engineers may not be as usable by a wider citizenry with varying degrees of technical literacy. For example, a pie chart instantly understandable by a sighted person may not hold much meaning for people who do not understand proportional representations and completely useless for a person without sight, yet be rendered informative by tactile manipulation or a chart explainer module.

Toward a Better, Inclusive Workforce

Workforce implications are multi-fold. First, a population of STEM tool developers better attuned to needs of persons with disabilities can improve cyberlearning for as much as 10% of the general population. Job creation and retention should improve for many of the estimated 70% unemployed and under-employed persons with disabilities, offering both better qualities of life and reduced lifetime costs of social security and other sustenance. There already exists an active corps of technologically adept persons with disabilities with strong domain knowledge and cultural understanding regarding communities of disabilities. The “curb cuts” principle also suggests that A.D.A. adaptations for persons with disabilities offer many unforeseen, but tacitly appreciated, benefits for a much wider population and at reasonable cost. NSF can reach out to take advantage of active developers with disabilities to educate its own as well as the STEM education and development worlds.

Summary of recommendation

  1. NSF adopt a meta-data scheme that labels cyberlearning research products as suitable or different abilities, with emphasis on the current state of assistive technology and adaptive methods employed by persons with disabilities.

  2. NSF engage its communities in learning necessary science and engineering for learning by persons with disabilities, e.g. using web standards and perhaps New cyberlearning tools developed for this purpose.

  3. NSF develop a policy for managing suitability of software, hardware, and associated artifacts in accordance with civil rights directives to universities and general principles of fairness.

  4. NSF establish programs to encourage innovation in addressing problems of unsuitable software and opportunities to create multiple representations using insights derived from limitations as of software as well as studies of high performing learners with disabilities.

  5. NSF work with disability representing organizations to identify explicit job opportunities and scholarships for developers specializing in cyberlearning tools and education of the cyberlearning education and development workforce.

Note: this group may possibly be
Related
National Center on Technology Innovation

CyberLearning and Learning Cyber: Lifelong and Accessibility Experiences

September 19, 2010

Susan L. Gerhart slger123@gmail.com


Alex Finnarn Alex.Finnarn@yc.edu

White paper for NSF CyberLearning Task force


Background: Alex is completing one year service with AmeriCorps Vista as a educational technology specialist for OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Yavapai College, also working with Northern Arizona SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) in Prescott Arizona. Susan is a semi-retired computer scientist, translating her experiences with vision loss into education and advocacy for web accessibility and adoption of assistive technology. She is a student of philosophy, history, and economics in OLLI, working with Alex and others on a technology task force, and facilitator of courses on social media and technology and society.


    To make cyber learning effective in the 21st century, it needs to be available for all populations and people who possess a desire to learn.
Current technology has not lived up to this promise. The younger generations of learners have embraced technology adequately with the help of adventurous teachers and innate ability; however, the older generations of learners have met cyber learning with adversity. Oftentimes, the systems they desire to use are not streamlined enough for adequate adoption. Finally, learners with classic accessibility issues, like poor vision, are ignored when online learning tools are designed. By reaching out to these disadvantaged populations, the whole of cyber learning will improve.

Experience with Cyber Learning for Lifelong Learners

OLLI is nationally supported by the Osher Foundation operating at over 100 U.S. independent locations. Yavapai College OLLI has over 600 members selecting peer directed courses from over 50 subjects during each six week session for fees of $130 for five class sessions per year. Courses are often structured around 1/2 hour lectures from The Learning Company supplemented by facilitator moderated discussions and materials. Diverse fare includes computer training (keyboard, Windows, Mac, Internet, Office, Photoshop) as well as rock and roll, art, health, memoir writing current events,, etc.


We asked: Where does CyberLearning assist OLLI activities and courses? What benefits might accrue
from a good technology platform?


We began to place course materials online after conducting a user survey in the spring of 2010. 87% of respondents in the survey reported having Internet access at home, and 79% reported checking their email at least once a day. The majority of the membership for OLLI did indeed have access to and used the Internet; however, none of the classes were able to readily incorporate cyber learning into their curriculum. A few classes tried using an online learning system, but interest peaked early and soon faded into disuse. With an able-bodied, intelligent, and Internet-ready membership, why was this OLLI unable to engage in cyber learning?


From strongly worded survey comments, we derived a “social contract” that members would not be forced into technology but rather be offered optional technology enhancements. Without clear cut cost benefits, such as reduced printing, or measurable improved learning objectives, we focused on outreach to home bound members, interaction with similar institutions for broader curricula opportunities, repositories and sharing within courses, and archiving institutional pictures and stories.


Existing platforms generally failed to attract interest and use from facilitators despite tutorials and assistance. The first problem is privacy, quite appropriate for repeated warnings of phishing and identity theft, but a barrier to sharing when members do not want a public web identity (Facebook aside). Streamlined and flexible entry is essential especially when courses occur in rapid cycles of six weeks. Forums for sharing are sparsely used because members are involved in many personal and community activities. They spend time as desired, but not required, on outside reading, Googling, and reflecting. A crucial feature of OLLI classes is the lack of tests or assessments during the course. Once grading and competition are removed from the classroom, many online platforms become bloated with unnecessary features. Furthermore, the incentive of using an online classroom to take a quiz or study for a test disappears, and a student must rely on innate curiosity to visit an online classroom.


While email and search engine savvy, OLLI members are not cognitively familiar with the models of forums, blogs, wikis, or tweet streams, and because of this, we are faced with introducing both new models and complex platforms together. After some experimentation and testing, we settled on using EDU 2.0, a rapidly growing U.K. based company with a reasonable business model and support, for an online classroom. We also partnered with another interesting venture in an Australian-based U3A, University of the 3rd Age, which offers self-paced courses and repositories available for facilitator adaptation at similar lifelong learning institutions. Although the OLLI membership is predominantly White, well-traveled, and professionally diverse, international thinking and contacts can offer many new opportunities for our OLLI, like an international book club.

Meanwhile, OLLI’s monthly newsletter has been adapted to appear on a WordPress blog with future plans for moderated forums. We are also actively using the college’s interactive TV classroom connection to offer distributed courses to our sister OLLI, expanding their course selection in the process. A long term goal we have is to host joint OLLI Internet-based courses that would take advantage of the country’s pool of retired expertise. However, the really tragic goal of reaching homebound elders in a community lacking public transit remains primarily a function of offering shared rides and a reliance on volunteers working within the public library.

Perhaps a more important goal is “Learning Cyber” or learning “by osmosis” and how social networks and cyber learning are changing our information practices. Why would any sane person use Twitter? How does a grandparent respond to pressure to participate in Facebook in order to see pictures, or monitor children, grandchildren, and vice versa? Does Google always provide correct information? What happens when newspapers open articles to potentially unpleasant community commenting? What is RSS? How does one critically check facts and correct chain emails with political misinformation? Facing complex interactions with Social Security websites, how does one upgrade their skills for PDF, forms, and chat help? Who wrote Wikipedia? When can You Tube, BigThink, and TED supplement the History and Discovery cable television channels? What are our real privacy rights regarding Google, Facebook, and online retailers? Institutions like OLLI provide an informal setting for increasing and assessing the skills of individual Cyber Learners. Our technology initiatives may be more effectively directed at exposure and bridging generations in both technological and chronological senses.

Recommendations

For the continuing improvement of a national Cyber Learning movement, we suggest researchers and developers incorporate, sooner rather than later, constituents from learning environments such as OLLI and similar institutions. We also recommend investigating the educational and technological practices of the two international sources we found most attractive, EDU 2.0 and U3A. The above experience should provide insights into and questions about cross generational Cyber Learning, which will benefit the movement as a whole.

Links


  1. The Bernard Osher Foundation Lifelong Learning Institutes


  2. OLLI Yavapai College, Prescott Arizona


  3. The Learning Company DVD Lectures


  4. “University of the Third Age” international movement


  5. U3A Australia, courses at Griffiths University


  6. EDU 2.0 Free U.K. based Learning Site

How Attention to Accessibility Can Improve Cyber learning

Attention to accessibility for persons with disabilities should be an immediate objective for educating *ALL* constituencies who touch any aspect of Cyber learning. Consider “accessibility” as the practices and technology that enable persons with disabilities using “assistive technologies” to participate fully and comfortably in CyberLearning.


Indeed, there is no choice if the Departments of Justice and Educations follow through on their “Dear College President” letter regarding
fairness in applications of emerging technologies in academic environments. “Accessibility” here means that devices and web sites must support assistive technologies commonly available through special education channels and increasingly appearing in mainstream markets: Screen (text-to-speech) readers, alternative input/output devices, networked tablet readers such as Kindle and iPad, and possibly lab instrumentation and pedagogical software.


As we argued regarding senior learners, citizens and markets must be served by people who differ in many aspects of physical and mental activities. Education workplaces and curricula must adapt to concepts of universal design ancultural diversity.
Fortuitously, adapting to accessibility offers a systematic way of expanding and analyzing design tradeoffs that benefit far more than persons with disabilities. Think about curb cuts originally for wheelchairs and now beneficial to baby strollers, bikers, inattentive walkers, and luggage cart users. In web environments, standards: address usability for persons using screen readers, also causing difficulties for many mobile device user;, facilitate interoperability of browsers and other user agents; and help manage costs of do-overs and long term maintenance.

Recommendations


For CyberLearning to reach its potential and broaden participation, attention to accessibility is not only overdue and inevitable but also a chance to refresh underlying technology as a CyberLearning experience in itself.


1. Web standards such as WCAG 2, provide a fledgling “science of accessibility” in the form of definitions, principles, experimental results, and field trials. Standards and theories evolve by employing high quality peer reviews, broad community input, extensive documentation,continuing debate in blogs and on Twitter, and increasing adoption earlier in cycles of HTML adoption. Professor Richard Ladner’s group at U. Washington contributes in depth traditional graduate and capstone education experiences, experiments, and publications, yielding cohorts of researchers also involved in outreach to K-12 students with disabilities. Furthermore, an engineering paradigm is emerging as “progressive enhancement” supported by static analyzers, and free operational tools (NVDA screen reader and VoiceOver on Macs). This science is a rich area for computational thinking.

2 University and professional organization web sites are often exquisitely poor examples of attention to accessibility, attested to by a recent NSF-funded study, ironically locked behind a professional society pay wall. Why are many Cyber learning organization web sites so bad? Accessibility simply is not a requirement, e.g. look up your own organizational accessibility statement. Is there one, is it followed, who is responsible? Ok, so academics don’t have time to learn or enforce accessibility theory or practice. But, is it acceptable to turn away Students who can otherwise function well in society but face extra barriers in STEM? and where will accessibility aware CyberLearning developers come from? Ouch, should organizations such as NSF and MIT promote inaccessible pedagogical tools such as Scratch?


In fact, we are not talking major engineering feats, but rather well structured pages as in good technical communication, a few lines of code that make forms into relational structures and pictures into captioned objects. The principle is general use of POSH (Plain Old Semantic HTML) from straight text HTML preserved through styles and fancy interactions topped off by seconds of automated compliance analysis and minutes of insightful execution of use cases. However, accessibility in pedagogical software definitely requires fundamental adoption of hooks and interfaces provided by system vendors.


Think of this change as one small step in technical communication and one giant leap forward in understanding and improving human learning performance.


3. Practically speaking, curricula can only have accessibility grafted onto courses and tools rather than taught as separate subjects. But creative and active learning can come into play: interviewing local ADA specialists for requirements and projects; turning off displays and browsing with a screen reader; estimating costs of retrofitting for omitted accessibility requirements; analyzing risks of lost markets and litigation; adding features suggested by audio supplement or alternative output and input channels; ethics and accessibility addenda to assignments. People who love game controllers and touch screen mobile devices should dig these exercises.


4. Specific interventions must be attempted starting with faculty awareness and introduction to the science of accessibility and its economic importance as well as social fairness. Suggested activities: accessibility seminars at educator gatherings; forced overhaul of professional and government sites to match .com and other .gov levels; design contests for students to makeover and create new information resource sites to meet the grand universal design challenge; audit of pedagogical tools, including textbooks, for universal learning objectives encompassing accessibility; release of all disability related publications now imprisoned beyond professional society pay walls; increased awareness of accessibility as a job and professional speciality; recognition of assistive tech as part of user interfaces; rubrics for POSH in technical communications. …


On a personal note, many avid learners gain vision rehabilitation facilitated through a vibrant online culture of blogs and podcasts on emotional, social, education, and technical topics. Visit this world yourself: book clubs and interactive demos at AccessibleWorld; product demos by individual users at BlindCoolTech; more demos and discussions at ACBRadio; and now a community of #accessibility and #a11y gurus and users on Twitter. Off the mainstream, but taking full advantage of CyberLearning while casting a wider net to newly disabled individuals offers a testimony to spontaneous online learning.

The Data Literacy Challenge


Finally, while the above complaints and suggestions are largely remedial, one clear challenge is the equal visualization” of information and data. Portfolio pie charts, rainfall tables, stimulus recovery expenditure maps, timelines, … are all essential for citizen participation and difficult for visually impaired people. Difficult, yes, but can alternative and multiple ways of channeling data into brains be accomplished through the adapted and flexible recognition and reasoning processes developed by visually impaired thinkers such as scientists and engineers? Can these new models of information and modes of interaction then benefit people with less analytical background or resistance to data driven reasoning?Designing cyber learning for the temporarily fully enabled may not only limit those currently working with disabilities but fail to build upon the unique experiences of and qualities of disabilities which we all have intermittently and eventually.

Links


  1. Department of Justice A.D.A. letter to college presidents


  2. W3C web standards and accessibility guidelines

  3. “>
    U. Washington assistive technology and accessibility projects (Richard Ladner)

  4. “>
    Book “Universal Design for Web Applications” by Matt May and Wendy Chisholm


  5. White paper on”Grafting Accessibility onto Computer science Education”, “As Your World Changes” blog, Susan L. Gerhart


  6. Inaccessible article on inaccessibility of academic web sites

  7. newly founded Institute on Cultural Diversity, including persons with disabilities

A Blogger Treasure, Walking No More

May 28, 2010

Julie Woodman aka “Granny J” at Walking Prescott blog

Julie and her blog were genuine treasures for the Prescott community. She inspired other bloggers to seek honesty, humor, and beauty in our writing. We all aspire to her level of blogging for ourselves and others.


And here is her post on Bloggery 101 Social Media Class which helped us learn her blogging philosophy. Now, don’t let anybody tell you blogging isn’t for people of all ages!


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