Reading, Ranting, and Computing: 2009 Heroes and Meanies

This post sums up 2009 from the perspective of a Vision Loser immersed in assistive technology, avidly learning about accessibility techniques and trade-offs. Sighted readers should glean more about how screen and book reading tools are advancing allowing print disabled people more freedom and enjoyment, at ever lower costs. Partially sighted people can learn how I am finding and using this technology. I call out some heroes and name some stupendous products. But no amount of technology can overcome the “meanies” of slighted social services and educational bases.


First let me thank comment ors and communicators about this blog, which wanders from emotional to technical to political to memoirs. I am always touched by search terms in the blog stats that indicate others are wondering: “what is ‘legally blind’ or ‘print disabled’? how to read Google book search images? why is the white cane significant?” Medical specialists don’t explain these, the disability community has its own vocabulary and modes, and often Vision Losers cannot find another person to query. I hope this blog reflects one person’s transition in useful terminology with practical advice. Please share your experiences here or ask direct questions.

Accessibility Heroes of 2009


My heroes are people who make a difference positively in my Vision Loser life space, often using their resources very wisely then communicating freely and with passion.

The Twitter #Accessibility Constellation

Suppose you are immersed in a subject that strongly influences your daily life
and has morphed into a social cause, say public gardening, or water
conservation, or web accessibility. Imagine you could walk into a conference ballroom and overhear conversations among the subject’s professional experts: reading recommendations, standards progress, emerging contentious issues, new technologies, and professional rumors. Add a dose of spirited interchange, sprinkled across 24 hours a day, with the blessed limitation of 2 lines per utterance. Allow yourself to interject a question or opinion occasionally to test your growing knowledge and appreciate any response from your virtual mentors. For me, this has been the Twitter #accessibility experience of 2009: virtually joining a constellation of accessibility stars and superstars.


so, let me thank the Opera web evangelists, STC accessibility sig, CSUN organizers,IBM accessibility, Mozilla developers, independent web consultants, and standards group members, who line up my browser tabs with hours of worthwhile reading. Most of these communicators use blogs for irregular longer explanations like iheni ‘making the Web Worldwide’ post on ‘Adventures of silver surfers’.

Special Mentions of Useful Work


Especially I appreciate:


wow, I sure learned a lot in 2009, 140 character message at a time, adds up rapidly. Little did I know starting to appreciate Twitter in early 2009how it would influence my web life..

The Great book Reader Game, Fueled by Bookshare

Hold on to your ear buds, this is a great era of reading technology advances, also known as “Digital Talking Books”, represented in DAISY format. When I got my print disability certification and joined bookshare.org in 2006, I started using book reading software on a clunky Toshiba laptop. With no real advisors, I stumbled onto the best reader of the time bookport from APH, the American Printing House for the blind. At first, I was daunted by the array of keys arranged into
combinations that implemented amazing reading functions. Motivated by then tiring regime of audio CD library transactions and cranky players, I rapidly grew to appreciate Precious Paul on the bookport reading my bookshare DAISY downloads.


But then came the Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager in 2007 that could connect wirelessly and bypass PC to bookshare, with an entirely natural Newsstand for retrieving national papers through the NFB news line. Since I preferred the more robust device and flexible reading by bookport, I simply transferred DAISY books from Icon to Pc to bookport every few weeks.


Comes 2009 and the CSUN exhibit hall and I found the Plextalk Pocket. Definitely more streamlined with a great recorder, now I also transferred my DAISY books to its SD card. But I never really felt comfortable with the PPT menus, voice, and reading routine.


Within a few months came the booksense from GW Micro with the best available neo speech voices in a candy bar size with more comfortable navigation. All right, now I get motivated to organize my hundreds of DAISY books into categories and I have references and fiction with me anywhere. Also my latest podcasts transferred from Icon and a bunch of TXT and HTML files. By the way, I had a fantastic simple shopping experience for Booksense at I can See My PC.com.


Oh, there’s more to come. recently reported is another incarnation of the
bookport based on Plextalk Pocket
and a promised something from Kurzweil. speaking business for a moment, bookport was sadly discontinued due to manufacturer limitations. however, companies in Korea and Japan are supplying the designs and components for American company specification and distribution. the worldwide market is somewhat like the cell phone industry where circuitry and casing, fingertip embossing, and, most important, commodity synthetic voices will bypass
traditional desktop and laptop computers. We’re riding a great wave of technology to enable us to exploit services like bookshare and its impressive educational movement.


Where is the Kindle in all this? Well, as I wrote in Amazon-ASU, Kindle, what a mess”, they blew off the disability market by not making their menus and device operations then accessible, then tried to launch into the college textbook sphere, a sore point for ADA requirements to transform print into print-disabled readable formats. Add in publisher and author concerns, and a perfect storm ensued. OK, I buy through a less cluttered alternative amazon interface but, dammit, those “get your Kindle now” come-ons are disgusting.


As to the bookshare library fueling my reading rampages, I appreciate publisher contributions but especially volunteer scanned and validated books. While I find it hard to segregate teenage reading for the bookshare special ed commission, I continually grow my library from changing personal interests and
new acquisitions. Recently, I took a course on Winston Churchill in order to fill in massive gaps in my world history knowledge and found a whole sub collection of WC books for the downloading. often I hear a Diane rehm interview or reader review and have the book in seconds. while Overdrive and Audible formats are great occasionally, I’ll take DAISY books read by Paul or Kate from my pocket or pillow anytime.


So, 2009 was great for pleasures of audio reading for this print-disabled reader . And 2010 is enticing. so many books, such enthusiastic book clubs, it’s hard to believe my reading life could be so comfortable and keep me engaged and learning every day. thanks, Bookshare, especially.


However reading books is complemented by the “web magazines” of lengthy podcasts, with demos, dialogs, and product plugs. Most useful to me is AccessibleWorld.org, and its heroine founder Pat Price for mature discussions oriented to a wide Vision Loser audience.

The mixed breed Apple tree and iPod Touch


It’s too early to tell for me, but the iPod touch is, well, an eye-opener, or maybe, finger stimulator. The transfer of speech enabled interface from Mac Os to touch screen is rather elegant and yet perfectly conventional for someone used to things that talk. I’m still practicing my flicks, learning menus and screen layouts, and adjusting to voice and volume. My iPod Touch guide is a Blind Cool Tech podcast.

Frankly, I don’t know if I’ll really
use the device in my daily routine or pass it on to the grateful hands of my helper relative. For me, this is an experiment in keeping up in two ways (1) the interface and (2) the app market. Now I know better what people are raving about, at the very least. Unfortunately, I hate iTunes as a cluttered mess, reluctantly made partially accessible by apple, and not as good a podcatcher as the Levelstar icon RSs client. I despise being driven into stores, to get something in the midst of other stuff I do not want to think about, let alone buy. so, a reluctant shopper has yet to find the hook that will make me a senior “silver surfer” happy app user and podcast listener. stay tuned.


Maybe most important is that the Touch and iPhone commemorate a unification of assistive and mainstream markets. When my fingers get better enabled, I’ll be able to converse with sighted people about similarities and differences in using these mobile devices. Ha, I might even seduce a few into TTS appreciation, leading to my ideal world where everything talks fluently and informatively. I even appreciate how Talking ATM technology helps Vision Losers manage , a fascinating tale of advocacy that makes daily life more normal.

People Who keep me going


Making this short, since I do get emotional, I truly appreciate my family and friends putting up with my frustrations, crazy ideas, and needs for transportation and shopping. Daily life details with partial vision are so much harder than I could have imagined. where’s my Icon case? Oh, on the black table, not the white contrast pad. that phone number I forgot to record? any medicare notices in the mail? whisper then please forget my PIN on grocery checkout. Hold in memory 10 things to do, ask for help, then re-ask a forgetful student helper. Coordinating schedules for lifelong learning and traditional college classes… I would never make it through the day without the freedom of a brisk 2 mile cane-free walk late afternoons.


Ouch, there are meanies in this life. Great retirement areas are not truly great unless they trade off a bit of housing, view, and roadway for public transportation for economically, physically, or temporarily disadvantaged people. Nothing would be so beautiful as a bus or van coming along the connector street a block away from home, taking me the few miles to lifelong learning classes or downtown restaurants or nearby shopping. Yes, I can walk but, well, why die of a fear from a careless driver in a pedestrian-unfriendly town. now, there are volunteer services, but we are talking about civilized life here, requiring taxes and attention, too often withheld by meanies. The sweetest words are “need a ride?” but at just the right time, if only there were a $5 routine impersonal option, sigh.. However, <a href="https://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/resilience-bouncing-back-from-vision-loss/&quot; Resilience as a quality of life for Vision Losers comes with the territory, and plenty of authors have advice and role models to reverse these thoughts about meanies.


I also appreciate the opportunities from OLLI lifelong learning at Yavapai college where I can take a variety of courses to fill in my lifelong knowledge gaps. Luckily I can also expose others to social media trends and techniques to older adults as well as my showing off neat reading gadgets and growing skills.


New retirees often go through a memoir-ish phase until realizing the hard work involved. For me, post-Sputnik educational opportunities hooked me on computing . I am fascinated by whether NOT being first helped the USA start activities that profoundly influenced our lives, like, oh, say, the Internet. Beep-beep-beep that’s the way it was.


As I gradually understand better the needs of Vision Losers, I appreciate the generational demands on caretakers, need support and training. More on this topic in 2010.

The “Meanies” who could do better

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Accessible Computing Mockery (ACM) happily behind the times

Knowing better, I mistakenly rejoined a professional association,acm.org, to gain access to its digital library. I sought to complete my publication repository, back to 1970s, maybe update some loose threads in a retrospective, and learn what I could from scholarly research on accessibility, usability, and assistive technology. For $200, I found myself struggling very hard through myriad metadata details to find items and, horrors, PDFs. in a layout table of search results, with headings left to site navigation. Quickly realizing it wasn’t this hard on google or bookshare, I asked through feedback for accessibility assistance. No response, asked again, 4 times. Complaining through other professional channels, I finally got a”well, we’ll update our CMs, sometime”. Invited to consult my tax advisor about considering a lifetime ACM membership, ha, I asked for my money back, declaring NFW I’d renew. Now, that’s just plain bad service to a professional contributor asking for ADA assistance. Strictly speaking, the entire site is technically accessible but using deprecated conventions a decade old. “It’s the headings, STUPID!”, I wanted to shout but knew I’d waste words and energy.


Sadly, my later post on ‘grafting accessibility onto computer
science education’
showed a widespread ignorance of simple, effective web standards across university and computing association websites. ever wonder where so many software accessibility problems come from? As a Cs educator myself, I stand guilty excluding my last semester when I wised up , conquered denial and deception, and tried to learn to guide software engineering projects. Believe me, accessibility isn’t in the Cs curricula, textbooks, or radar screens of more than a few research groups. Moreover to read their publications, and there are many good ideas and experiments, you need to fork over $$ to ACM through personal or institutional membership. and fight that deprecated portal monument to inaccessibility. Beware, my activist archetype will guide me through another year of asking Computing educators and NSF program personnel about accessibility inclusion of distributed pedagogical tools. Professional organizations like ACM and CRA should truly lead, by example, and minimize harm by taking their noses out of the federal funding trough and looking at their own disability demographics and responsibility to the society that depends upon computing products. Please see my constructive analysis and comments in the
December 7 post honoring the (only 10 accessibility errors) National Cs ed week.

The wealthy who starve rehab and transit services


In august I ranted about health insurance denial for being a vision Loser . While my anti-protected-capitalism streak still labels these companies and their protectors as the greatest meanies I could imagine, I now have a few more thoughts. Traveling to Canada in the midst of tea bag town halls I realized the U.S.A. was losing ground with other countries in both spirit and material senses. Wrangling among political factions on enormously costly and complex systems like health care is a failing situation that allows others
who resolved these issues a half century ago to improve their worlds without our anxieties and get on with other challenges the U.S.A. cannot adequately work on. In other words, we’re unhealthy due to this wrangling in a possibly fatal or declining sense.


closer to the situation facing Vision Losers is our sparse rehab system. Marvelous treatments now allow macular degenerates to prolong their vision loss experience until we all may possibly have access to stem cell interventions and repair. But eye conditions like mine, myopic macular degeneration and glaucoma, are often just plain not reversible or controllable. vision loss, Like other sensory changes, is part of aging or injury or birth, and medicine isn’t the solution. rather, people with these conditions need rehab, training, and support more than medicine. If I hadn’t found a white cane and a little OMT (orientation and mobility training) I would likely be more damaged from falls or dispirited from being home-bound. the OMT cost, a few eye doctor visits and tests, made more difference to my life. Where does this rehab fit into the health care system? who pays? taxes? donations? volunteers? Really, we’re talking about a layer of our social services that must be maintained by taxes from all, believing that a proper role for any government is to diminish pain to unfortunate people and also enable them to reach their potential. Anybody who would deny OMT funded by a few dollars of taxes per citizen is a big, old, meanies in my very well informed opinion. come on, Americans, especially Arizonans, let’s give up a picture window in our dream homes, a trip to a Broadway play, or even a solar panel in order to support the education and salaries of the rehab layer of society. Your vision slips, you don’t want to move to a city with Lighthouse or SOAVI, where are you going to get needed training? again, this is just a matter of civilization, and a bit of wealth sharing.

Wishes for a better 2010

  1. An AccessibleX for every open service X. AccessibleTwitter shows how an web designer committed to accessibility can create a usable alternative interface to a service that chooses not to adopt standards or embrace its disabled users. So be it, big open X, but you’ll lose direct advertising revenue and loyalty, if that matters. Google WAVE is a great example.
  2. Really open book services. Google Book Search throws up unreadable page image that limits scholarly accomplishments of visually impaired people, like me. google should work a deal with Bookshare to send page text to qualified people as part of their settlement to exclusively manage intellectual property of millions of authors.
  3. A simple web-based RSS reader. RSS is the vein of gold in our web infrastructure that conducts blog posts and news updates to our attention with less web clutter and more convenience. My Levelstar Icon RSS client is perfectly simple, works for podcasts and text feeds, and collects 150 tributaries into one flow. But, Crossing the RSS divide for more web users is a challenge we need to address, including the .gov feeds.
  4. The end of stupid CAPTCHAs. These ugly buggers caught on as a symbol of human superiority to troublesome bots. “Prove you are human, decipher this image or sound track” if you also have acute enough vision or hearing. Sorry, AI lovers, but WordPress, for example, gets by with a good spam filter and email confirmations. OpenId requires one authenticated existence to prove humanity to other services. The blind communities have their own volunteer CAPTCVHA solvers, but why should a segment of society with 70% unemployment bear the costs of CAPTCHA entries to blogs and services? Think before using them, CAPTCHAs are not cool.
  5. More and better communication of academic computing professionals, especially educators, with web accessibility consultants and standards organizations. Indeed, there is a “science of accessibility” with framework of concepts, criteria (perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust), engineering principles (POSH=Plain Old Semantic HTML”), progressive enhancement design process, empirical studies, validation and design tools, all based in the current mantra of “computational thinking”. The ACM and IEEE should tear down their paywalls and expose their taxpayer-funded research results for everybody, rather than let ideas languish and researchers proceed in academic chambers. The current situation breeds out accessibility knowledge badly needed for future generations of mostly web and mobile usage.
  6. Engage designers and offer prizes for renovation of websites falling behind the times and below standards, as found in our recorded tour of stumbling around academic computing websites. True, the allure of good websites is a decade ago for many CS departments, often with control ceded to IT or New Media departments. In my experience, most students wanted to, but rarely had the chance to, participate in a design project aimed at utility, universality, and beauty. Website design is exactly that, with the added challenge of back end server and database architectures. Seriously, I ask, which is the best USA CS department website? Why? and how does it reflect its faculty, staff, and students?
  7. A pie chart manipulator to replace pictorial charts. With more and better data coming from the USG and computational engines like Wolfram Alpha, visually impaired people are stuck reading painfully through tables or using under-explained image texts. Tactile devices engage science and engineering students, but are there other options? Is there a widget that works the brain through fingers to explore and assimilate data just like looking at a pie chart? Our brains do amazingly well with TTS through ears rather than printed text through the eyes. Are we underutilizing our senses, individually and in combination?
  8. Continued progress and support for a modern technology USG, including conquering forms. We will all have improved services and information, provided gov websites apply accessibility principles and seek then use our feedback. What would really help is one good HTML form style that all websites could adapt and save citizens from stumbling around or abandoning our agency interactions.

  9. Every Vision Loser receives adequate orientation and mobility training, access to public transportation, support in daily living, and continuing opportunities in using software, networks, and web services. Not only students, job seekers, and veterans deserve services but also the aging who have so much to give back to society and so much to lose from isolation or falling behind.

Best wishes for a productive, stumble-free,, tweet-full, and fun 2010

Susan L. Gerhart, :Ph.D.

slger123 at gmail.com and on twitter

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Grafting web accessibility onto computer science education

Note: this is a long post with webliography in the next article.
There is also a recorded tour of CS web sites as an MP3 download.

Understanding web accessibility through computational Thinking


This post is written for distribution during the first proclaimed National computer science education week, December 7, 2009. My goal is to stimulate awareness within the CSE community of the importance of web and software accessibility to society at large and to the proper development of associated skills within CS curricula. Taking this further, I offer a call to action to renovate our own websites for purposes of (1) improved service, (2) learning and practice, and (3) dissemination of lessons learned to other academic entities, including professional organizations.


recognizing that traditional, accredited CS curricula do not define a role for accessibility, I suggest actions that can be grafted into courses as exercises, readings, debates, and projects. To even more legitimize and improve uptake of accessibility, many of these problems can be cast as computational Thinking in the framework of drivers from society, technology, and science.

Definitions and Caveats

Caveat: I do not represent the blindness communities, standards groups, or any funding agency.
Also, I limit this accessibility context to the USA and visual impairment disability.

here is my personal definition framework:

  • Definition: disability = inability to independently perform daily living tasks due to physical or mental causes

    example: I cannot usually read print in books or news, nor text on a computer screen at size 14

    Example: I cannot usually follow a mouse cursor to a button or line of text to edit

  • Definition: Assistive Technology (AT) = hardware or software that overcomes some limits of a disability

    example: A screen magnifier can track a mouse cursor then smooth and enlarge text in the cursor region

    Example: A screen reader can announce screen events and read text using synthetic speech

  • Definition: Accessibility = Quality of hardware and software to (1) enable assistive technology and also (2) support the AT user to the full extent of their skills without unnecessary expenditure of personal energy

    example: A web page that enables focus through keyboard events enables a screen reader to assist a user to operate the page with ease, provided hands are working. Same is true for sighted users.

    Example A screen magnifier enables reading text and screen objects but at such a low rate that I cannot accomplish much usual work:

    Note: I am conflating accessibility with usability here, with usability usually referring beyond disabilities. Informally, to me, “accessibility” means my screen reader is fully operational, not in the way, and there are no reasons I cannot achieve the goal of page success as well as anybody.

  • Definition: Accommodation = explicit human decisions and actions to accomplish accessibility

    Example: Modifying a web page enhances comprehension for a screen reader user, see POSH computational thinking below

    Ecxample: Adapting security settings on a PC to permit a job applicant with a screen reader on a pen drive to read instructions and complete tests and forms

    Example: A curb cut in a sidewalk enables wheelchairs to moor easily cross streets. Also true for baby strollers, inattentive pedestrians, visually impaired, luggage carts, skateboards, etc.


I base my analysis and recommendations on several domains of knowledge:

  • Learning and acquisition of skills as a recent vision Loser, becoming “print disabled”, “legally blind”, now at an intermediate skill level

  • Computer scientist, active for decades in formal methods and testing, highly related to “computational thinking” with broader professional experience in design methods and technology transfer.

  • Intermittent computer science and software engineering educator at undergraduate and master’s level programs with experience and opinions on accreditation, course contents, student projects, and associated research

  • Accelerated self-study and survival training from the community of persons with disabilities, the industry and professions serving them, and the means for activism based in social media like twitter, blogs, and podcasts

  • Lingering awareness of my own failings before my vision loss, including software without accessibility hooks, web pages lacking structural/semantic markup, and , worst of all, omission of accessibility considerations from most courses and projects. My personal glass house lies in slivers around me as I shout “if only I knew then, when I was professionally active, what I know now, as a semi-retiree living with the consequences and continuing failures of my profession.

what is “computational thinking” and what does it have to do with accessibility?

This term was coined by dr. Jeannette wing in a 2006 article, and best expressed in her
Royal society presentation and podcast conversations. for our purposes, CT asks for more precise description of abstractions used in assistive technology, web design, and mainstream browsers, etc. The gold standard of web accessibility for my personal kind of disability, shared with millions of Americans, is the bottom line of reading and interacting with web sites as well as currently normally sighted persons. To an amazing degree, audio and hearing replaces pixels and seeing provided designs do support cooperation of assistive technology at both primitive levels and costs for effort expended. I’ll illustrate some fledgling computational thinking in a later section and by touring CS and other websites, but, sorry, this won’t be a very pleasant experience for either me the performer or listeners.


CSE can benefit from the more rigorous application of CT to meet its societal obligations while opening up new areas of research in science and technology leading to more universal designs for everybody. To emphasize, however, this is not a venture requiring more research before vast improvements can be achieved, but rather a challenge to educators to take ownership and produce more aware computing professionals. …

Driving forces of society, Technology, and science


Here’s a summary of trends and issues worthy of attention within CSE and suggested actions that might be grafted appropriately.

driving forces from society

computer science education has a knowledge gap regarding accessibility


As excellently argued in a course description “Accessibility First”, web design in general, accessibility, and assistive technology are at best service learning or research specialties falling under human computer interface or robotics. where do Cs students gain exposure to human differences, the ethics of producing and managing systems usable by everybody, and the challenges of exploring design spaces with universal intentions.


The extensive webliography below offers the best examples I could find, so please add others as comments. Note that I do not reference digital libraries because (1) the major ACM Portal is accessibility deficient itself and (2) I object to the practice of professional contributions being available only at a charge. The practice of professional society control over publications forces a gulf between academic researchers and a vibrant community of practitioners, including designers, tool builders, accessibility consultants and activists.


Action: Use the above definition framework to describe the characteristics of the following as ordinary or assistive: keyboards, tablets with stylus, onscreen keyboard, mouse, screens, fonts, gestures, etc. How do these interfaces serve (1) product developers and (2) product users? Where is the line between assistive and mainstream technology?


Action: see the proposed expansion of the National computer Science education proclamation in our conclusions. Debate the merits of both the whereas assumptions the therefore call to action. Are these already principles adopted and practiced within CSE?

Disability is so prevalent that accessibility is a uniform product requirement.

Being disabled is common, an estimated 15% of U.S.A. population with serious enough visual impairment to require adjustments from sites designed assuming full capabilities of acuity, contrast, and color. Eyesight changes are inevitable throughout life, even without underlying conditions such as macular degeneration or severe myopia. Visual abilities vary also with ambient conditions such as lighting, glare, and now size and brightness of small screens on mobile devices. considering other impairments, a broken arm, carpal tunnel injury, or muscle weakness give a different appreciation for interaction with a mouse, keyboard, or touch screen. As often said, we will all be disabled some way if we live long enough. Understanding of human differences is essential to production of good software, hardware, and documentation. Luckily, there are increasingly more specimens, like me, willing to expose and explain my differing abilities and a vast library of demonstrations recorded in podcasts and videos.


Action: view You tube videos such as the blind web designer using a screen reader explaining the importance of headings on web pages. Summarize the differences in how he operates from currently sighted web users. How expensive is the use of Headings? See more later in our discussion of CT for Headings.


Action: visit or invite the professionals from your organization’s Disability services, Learning center, or whatever it is called. These specialists can explain disabilities, assistive technology, educational adjustments, and legal requirements.


Action: Is accessibility for everybody, everywhere, all the time a reasonable requirement? What are the ethics and tradeoffs of a decision against accommodation? What are the responsibilities of those requiring accommodations?

The ‘curb cut’ principle suggests how accessibility is better for everyone


Curb cuts for wheelchairs also guide blind persons into street crossings and prevent accidents for baby strollers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and inattentive walkers. The “curb cuts” principle is that removing a barrier for persons with disabilities improves the situation for everybody. This hypothesis suggests erasing the line that labels some technologies as assistive and certain practices as accessibility to maximize the benefits for future users of all computer-enabled devices. This paradigm requires a new theory of design that recognizes accessibility flaws as unexplored areas of the design space, potential harbingers of complexity and quality loss, plus opportunities for innovation in architectures and interfaces. Additionally, web accessibility ennobles our profession and is just good for business.


Action: List physical barriers and adaptations in your vicinity, not only curb cuts, but signage, safety signals, and personal helpers. Identify how these accommodate people with canes, wheelchairs, service animals, etc. And also identify ways these are either helpful or hampering individuals without disabilities. Look at settings of computers and media used by instructors in classrooms. Maybe a scavenger hunt is a good way to collect empirical physical information and heighten awareness.


Action: Identify assistive technology and accessibility techniques that are also useful for reasons different from accessibility? e.g. A keyboard enabled web page or browser tabs support power users.

Persons with disabilities assert their civil rights to improve technology.


while most of us dislike lawsuits and lawyers, laws are continuously tested and updated to deal with conflicts, omissions, and harm. Often these are great educational opportunities on both the challenges of living with disabilities and the engineering modifications, sometimes minor, for accommodations. Commercial websites like amazon, iTunes, the Law School aptitude test, small business administration, and Target are forcefully reminded that customers are driven away by inaccessibility of graphics, menus, forms, and shopping carts. Conversely, recently, I had a quick and easy checkout from a Yahoo small business website, greatly raising my respect and future return likelihood whenever I see the product vendor and website provider.


Devices such as controllers on communication systems, the amazon Kindle, and new software like google WAVE and chrome browser often launch with only accessibility promises, excluding offensively and missing feedback opportunities from persons with disabilities. Over and over, it is shown that the proverbial software rule of increasing cost of fixing missing requirements late is exemplified by accessibility, whether legal or business motivated. While a lawsuit can amazingly accelerate accessibility, companies with vast resources like Microsoft, Oracle, blackboard, and google are now pitted in accessibility races with Yahoo, apple, and others. The bar is rapidly being raised by activism and innovation.


for many The social good of enabling equal access to computing is an attractor to a field renowned for nerds and greed. Social entrepreneurs offer an expansive sense of opening doors to not only education and entertainment but also employment, that now stands around 20% for disabled persons. Many innovative nonprofit organizations take  advantage of copyright exemptions building libraries and technology aids for alternatives to print and traditional reading.  


The computing curb cuts principle can motivate professionals, services, and end users to achieve the potential beauty and magic of computing in everyday life, globally, and for everybody who will eventually make the transition into some form of sensory, motor, or mental deficiency. But, first, mainstream computing must open its knowledge and career paths to encompass the visionaries and advances now segregated. All too often persons with disabilities are more advanced, diversified, and skill full in ways that could benefit not yet disabled people.


Action: The ubiquitous bank ATM offers a well documented ten year case study of how mediation led to a great improvement in independent living. for visually impaired people. Take those ear buds out of the MP3 player and try them on a local ATM, asking for service help if needed or ATM is not voice enabled. Using a voice enabled ATM also provides insight into the far more problematic area of electronic voting systems.


Action:
the amazon Kindle lawsuit by blind advocates against universities considering, or rejecting, the
device and its textbook market provides a good subject for debate.


Action: On the home front, pedagogical advances claimed for visual programming languages like Alice are not equally available to visually impaired students and teachers. first, is this a true assertion? How does this situation fit the definition of equal or equivalent access to educational opportunities? should the platform and implementation be redone for accessibility? Note: I’ve personally seen a student rapidly learn OO concepts and sat in on Cs1 courses with Alice, but I am totally helpless with only a bright, silent blob on the screen after download. Yes, I’ve spoken to SIGCSE and Alice personnel, suggested accessibility options, but never received a response on what happens to the blind student who signs up for an Alice-based CS course. Please comment if you have relevant experience with accommodations and Alice or other direct manipulation techniques.

The Web has evolved a strong set of standards and community of supporters.

W3c led efforts are now at 2.0 with an evolved suite of standards products, including documents, validator’s, and design tools. standards go a long way enabling accessibility by both their prescriptions and rationales, often drawing on scientific principles, such as color perception. but the essence of web standards is to define the contracts among browsers and related web technologies that enables designers to predict the appearance of and interaction with their designed sites and pages. The theme of WCAG 2.0 sums up as Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. we all owe a debt to the Web standards Mafia for their technical contributions, forceful advocacy to vendors, and extensive continuing education.


Web standards are sufficiently mature, socially necessary, and business worthy that open, grassroots motivated curricula are being defined. CSE people who understand CT may well be able to contribute to this effort uniquely. In any case, questions about the relationship of tradition CS education and this independent curriculum movement must be addressed considering the large workforce of web designers, including accessibility specialists. Furthermore, web design inherently requires close designer and client communication, making it difficult to offshore into different culture settings.


Action: Use the #accessibility and #a11y hash tags on twitter to track the latest community discussions, mostly presented in blogs and podcasts. Pick a problem, like data tables, to learn the accessibility issues from these experts. find and create good and bad examples, but note you may need a screen reader software for this. can you characterize the alternatives and tradeoffs in CT terms?


Action: Create or try some web page features in several different browsers. Notice the differences in appearance and operation. Which sections of WCAG apply to noticeable differences or similarities?


Action: What is the career connection of computer science and web design? What are the demographics, salary, portability, and other qualities of web design versus traditional CS and SE jobs?

Transparency and dissemination of federal government data is drawing attention to accessibility

First, a remodeled whitehouse.gov drew accolades and criticisms. New websites like data.gov and recovery.gov appeared to reinforce the Obama administration promises. Disability.gov showed up on my radar screen through its Twitter flow. All these web sources, are now in my RSS feed reading regime. But the websites seem to be still behind on some aspects of accessibility, and under scrutiny by activists, including me. Personally, I’d be satisfied with a common form for requesting data and services, not the elements itself but well evolved interaction patterns through feedback and validation. More importantly, the data sets and analyses are challenging for visually impaired people, suggesting even new scientific research and novel technology to utilize alterative non-visual senses and brain power.


Additionally, innovation in assistive technology and accessibility is recognized at the National Center for Technology Innovation, with emphasis on portability and convergence with mainstream technology. Indeed, apparently, there are stimulus funds available in education and in communication systems.


Action: Visit the various USG cabinet department websites and then write down your main perception of their quality and ability to answer questions.


Action: Find examples of USG website forms users fill out for contacts, download of data sets, mailing lists, etc. How easy is filling out the forms> what mistakes do you make? How long does each take? Which forms are best and worst?

Action:
Check out on recovery.gov whether any stimulus funds are being spent on assistive technology. Or perhaps that information is on Deptart of Education sites as plans or solicitations.

Mainstream and assistive technologies are beginning to cross over.


BusinessWeek notes a number of examples:
Clearly mobile devices are driving this change. Embedding VoiceOver in Mac OS, transferred then to products like IPod Touch, has motivated a number of blind “screenless switchers”. Google calls its version on Android “eyes-free”. For those long stuck in the “blindness ghetto” of products costing $1000s with small company support and marketing chains through disability support service purveyors, this is a big deal. Conversely, although limited by terms of amendment under the Chafee agreement, members of Bookshare have enjoyed access to a rapidly growing library of texts, really XML documents, read in synthetic speech by now pocket size devices than cross Kindle and IPod capabilities. There’s never been a better time to lose some vision if one is a technology adopter willing to spend off retirement funds to remain active and well informed. The aging baby boomer generation that drives USA cost concerns will be a vast market in need of keeping up with the government flow of information, electronic documentation, not to mention younger generations.


But, while this Vision Loser is happy with the technology trend, to those disabled around the world working with older or non-existent computing environments this and free, open source trends make truly life changing differences.


Action: What are the job qualifications for working in the areas of assistive technology and accessibility? Is this business are growing, and in what regions of the USA or the world?

Technology drivers

social media opens the culture of disability and the assistive markets for all computing professionals to explore.


while the cultures of disability may operate separate systems of societies and websites, in the case of vision impairment, the resources are right there for everybody to learn from, primarily by demos disseminated as podcasts by blind cool Tech, accessible world, and vendors. several annual conferences feature free exhibit halls visited by disability professionals, independent disabled like me, and luminaries like stevie wonder. cSUN is the biggest and a good place to get vendor and product lists. Again, many products can be seen in local disability support services. Local computer societies and CS courses may find well equipped people who can present like my Using things that Talk. This is a vibrant world of marketing closely couple with users, highly professional demos, and innovative developers, often disabled themselves. I personally treasure shaking hands with and thanking the young blind guys behind my Levelstar Icon and NVDA screen readers. Also, mailing lists are to various degrees helpful to the newly disabled, and rarely particular about age and gender. it’s a great technology culture to be forced into.

Action: Whenever you’re in a large enough city, visit their local vision training centers. I think you’ll be welcome, and might leave as a volunteer.


Action: With well over a thousand podcasts, dozens of blogs, and a regular tweet stream, the entry points for learning are abundant. However, the terminology and styles of presenters and presentations vary widely. Consider an example, often used in computer science, like David Harel’s watch, the microwave oven, or elevator controller. How do the state diagrams manifest in speech interfaces? Can you reverse engineer device descriptions using computational thinking? How could this help disabled users or accessibility providers?

Text-to-speech (TTS) is a mature technology with commodity voices.


Screen reader users rely on software implemented speech engines which use data files of word-to-sound mappings, i.e. voices. built into Mac Os, and widely available in windows and Linux, this mature technology supports a marketplace of voices available in open source or purchased with varying degrees of licensing, at a cost of about $25. comparable engines and voices are the main output channel of mobile assistive devices, like now I type on the Levelstar Icon. web pages, books, dialogs, email, … reading is all in our mind through our ears, not our eyes. An amazing and not yet widely appreciated breakthrough of a lineage of speech pioneers dating back to 1939 through DecTalk ATT Natural voices and now interactions with voice

recognition.


Action: Wikipedia has a great chronology and description of synthetic speech. Track this with Moore’s law and the changes of technology over decades.


Action: Compare synthetic voices, e.g. using samples from vendor nextup.com or the ‘As Your World Changes’ blog samples.

Processor and storage enable more and more talking devices. why not everything?

Alarm clocks, microwave ovens, thermostats, and
many more everyday objects are speech enabled to some degree, see the demos on blind cool Tech and accessible world. I carry my library of 1000+ books everywhere in a candy bar sized screen-less device. but why stop until these devices are wirelessly connected with meaningful contextual networks. Thermostats could relay information about climate and weather trends, power company and power grid situations, and feedback on settings and recommended adjustments. Devices can carry their own manuals and training.


Action: Listen to podcasts on blind cool Tech and accessible world about talking devices and how they are in use by visually impaired people. Reverse engineer the devices into state machines, use cases, and write conversations between devices and users in “natural language”, assuming ease of speech output.


Action: Inventory some devices that might be redesigned for talking, even talkative. Electrical or chemical laboratory instruments, medical devices, home appliances, cars and other moving things, etc. But what would these devices speak? How do they avoid noise pollution? interference? annoyance?


Action: Computer science researchers are great at devising advanced solutions that provide service to relatively few disabled persons. For example, I have no use of GPS because if I’m somewhere I don’t know, I’m in bigger trouble than needing coordinates. This would b different in a city with public transportation, maybe. How do we evaluate technology solutions with the user, not the technology purveyor, as the main beneficiary?

Pivotal technology for visually impaired, the screen reader, is rapidly evolving through open source

A screen reader doesn’t really read pixels but rather the interfaces and objects in the browser and desktop. GUI objects expose their behaviors and properties for the screen reader to read and operate via TTS. Listen to the demos of Cs websites you may be familiar with. Unfortunately the marketplace for screen readers has been priced at over $1000 with steep SMA updates and limits in trials and distribution. Products largely sold to rehab and disability services passed on to users, with limited sales to individuals. This is a killer situation for older adults who find themselves needing assistance but without the social services available to veterans, students, and employee mandated. Worse, product patents are being employed by lawyers and company owners (some non USA) as competitive lawsuits.

however, the world has changed with the development over the past few years of NVDA, Non visual desktop access, originating in Australia with grants from Mozilla, then yahoo and Microsoft. A worldwide user community adapts NVDA for locale and Tts languages, with constant feedback to core developers. gradually, through both modern languages (Python) and browser developer collaborations, NVDA is challenging the market. You can’t beat free, portable, and easily installed if the product works well enough, as NVDA has for me since 2007. It’s fun to watch and support an agile upstart, as the industry is constantly changing with new web technologies like ARIA. The main problem with NVDA is robustness in the competing pools for memory resources and inevitable Windows restarts and unwanted updates.

Action: download and install NVDA. Listen to demos to learn its use. You will probably need to upgrade TTS voices from its distributed, also open, Espeak.

Action: learn how to test web pages with NVDA, with tutorials available from Webaim and Firefox. Define testing criteria (see standards) and processes. Note: good area here for new educational material, building on CS and SE testing theories and practices.


Action: develop testing practices, tools, and theories for NVDA itself. since screen readers are abstraction oriented, CT rigor could help.


Action: Modify NVDA to provide complexity and cost information. Is there a Magic Metric that NVDA could apply to determine with, say 80% agreement with visually impaired users, that a page was OK, DoOver, or of questionable quality in some respect?

structured text enables book and news reading in a variety of devices..


DAISY is a specification widely implemented to represent books, newspapers, magazines, manuals, etc. Although few documents fully exploit its structuring capabilities, in principle, a hierarchy of levels with headings allows rapid navigation of large textual objects. for example, the Sunday NY Times, has 20 sections, editorials, automobiles, obituaries, etc. separated into articles. Reading involves arrowing to interesting sections, selecting articles, listening in TTS until end of article or nauseous click to next article. books arrive as folders of size usually less than 1 MB. reader devices and software manage bookmarks, possibly in recorded voice, and last stopping point, causes by user action or sleep timer. In addition to audible and National narrated reading services with DRM, The TTS reading regime offers a rich world from 60,000+ books contributed by volunteers and publishers to bookshare and soon over 1M DAISY formatted public books through bookserver.org.
These are not directly web accessibility capabilities as in browsers but rather do read HTML as text, support RS’s reading of articles on blogs, and include browsers with certain limits, as in no Flash.
Over time, these devices contribute to improved speech synthesis for use everywhere, including replacement of human voice organs. Steven Hawking, blogger heroine ‘left thumbed blogger’ Glenda with cerebral palsy, and others use computer and mobile devices to simply communicate speech.


Action: Listen to podcasts demos of devices like Icon, booksense, Plextalk, Victor stream. What capabilities make reading possible, tolerable, or pleasant? Voice, speed, flexibility, cost, access, …?

Accessibility tools are available, corresponding to static analyzers and style checkers for code.

While not uniformly agreeing, accurate, or helpful, standards groups provide online validator’s to “test” accessibility. For example, WAVE from webaim.org, marks up a page with comments derived from web standards guidelines, like “problematic link”, “unmatched brackets”, java script interactions (if java script disabled), header outline anomalies, missing graphic explanations, small or invisible text. It’s easy to use this checker, just fill in the URL. However, interpreting results takes some skill and knowledge. Just as with a static analyzer, there are false hits, warnings where the real problem is elsewhere, and a tendency to drive developers into details that miss the main flaws. Passing with clean marks is also not sufficient as a page may still be overly complex or incomprehensible.


Action: Below is a list of websites from my recorded tour. Copy the link into WebAim.org WAVE (not the Google one) and track the markup and messages to my complaints or other problems. show how you would redesign the page, if necessary, using this feedback.


Action: redesign the ACM digital library and portal in a shadow website to show how a modern use of structured HTML would help.


Action: consider alternatives to PDF delivery formats. Would articles be more or less usable in DAISY?


Action: design suites of use cases for alternative digital libraries of computer science content. which library or search engine is most cost effective for maintenance and users?

science drivers

Understanding of brain plasticity suggests new ways of managing disabilities

Brain science should explain the unexpected effectiveness and pleasure of reading without vision.


My personal story. Although I was experimenting with TTS reading of web pages, I had little appreciation, probably induced by denial, of how I could ever read books or long articles in their entirety. since it was
only a few weeks after I gave up on my Newsweek and reading on archetypes until my retina specialist pronounced me beyond the acuity level of legal blindness, I only briefly flirted with magnifiers, the trade of low vision specialists. rather, upon advice of another legally blind professional I met through her book and podcasts interviews, I immediately joined the wonderful nonprofit bookshare.org. A few trials with some very good synthetic voices and clunky PC-based software book readers lead me to the best at that time handheld device, the Bookport from APH, American Printing House for the blind. within weeks, I was scouring bookshare, then around 20,000 volumes, for my favorite authors and, wonders be, best sellers to download to my bookport. At first, I abhorred the synthetic voice, but if that was all that stood between me and regular reading, I could grow to love old precious Paul. going on 4 years, 2 GB of books, and a spare of the discontinued bookport, I still risk strangulation from ear buds at night with bookport beside me. Two book clubs broadened my reading into deeper unfamiliar nonfiction terrain and the Levelstar Icon became my main retriever from bookshare, now up to 60,000 volumes with many teenage series and nationally available school textbooks. I tell this story not only to encourage others losing vision, but also as a testimonial to the fact that I I am totally and continually amazed and appreciative that my brain morphed so easily from visual reading of printed books to TTS renditions in older robotic style voices. I really don’t believe my brain knows the difference about plot, characters, and details with the exception of difficult proper names and tables of data (more later). Neuroscientists and educators write books about the evolution of print but rarely delve into these questions of effectiveness and pleasure of pure reading by TTS. The best exceptional research is Clifford Nass A ‘wire for speech’ on how our brains react to gender, ethnicity, age, emotion, and other factors of synthetic speech. such a fascinating topic!

Action: Listen to some of the samples of synthetic speech on my website, e.g. the blockbuster ‘Lost symbol’ sample. Which voices affect your understanding of the content? How much do you absorb compared with reading the text sample? Extrapolate into reading the whole book using the voices you prefer, or can tolerate, and consider how you might appreciate the book plot, characters, and scenery Do you prefer male or female voices? Why?.

Numerical literacy is an open challenge for visual disability.

I personally encountered this problem trying to discuss a retirement report based around asset allocations expressed in pie charts. Now, I understand charts well, even programmed a chart tool. But I could find no way to replace the fluency of seeing a pie chart by reading the equivalent data in a table. This form of literacy, a form of numeracy, needs more work in the area of Trans-literacy, using multiple forms of perception and mental reasoning. Yes, a pie chart can be rendered in tactile form, like Braille pin devices, but these are still expensive. Sound can convey some properties, but these depend on good hearing and a different part of the brain. Personally, I’d like to experiment with a widget operated by keyboard, primarily arrow keys, that also read numbers with different pitches, voices, volume, or other parameters. The escalating sound of a progress bar is available in my screen reader, for example. Is there a composite survey somewhere of alternative senses and brain training to replace reading charts? Could this be available in the mainstream technology market? How many disabilities or educational deficiencies of education and training might also be addressed in otherwise not disabled people?
Is there an app for that?


Action: Inventory graphical examples where data tables or other structures provide sufficient alternatives to charts? Prototype a keyboard-driven, speech-enabled widget for interaction with chart like representations of data. Thank you for using me as a test subject.


Action: Moving from charts to general diagrams, how can blind students learn equivalent data structures like lists, graphs, state machines, etc.?

Web science needs accessibility criteria and vice versa.


The web is a vast system of artifacts, of varying ages,
HTML generations, human and software generated, important, etc. could current site and page accessibility evaluation scale to billions of pages in a sweep of accessibility improvement?
Surveys currently profile how screen readers are used and the distribution of HTML element usage.


Do a web search, in bing, Yahoo, google, or dogpile, whatever, and you’ll probably find a satisficing page , and a lot you wish not to visit or never visit again. Multiply that effort by , say 10, for every page that’s poorly designed or inaccessible to consider the search experience of the visually impaired. Suppose also that the design flaws that count as accessibility failures also manifest as stumbles or confusion for newer or less experience searchers. Now consider the failure rate of serious flaws of, , say, 90% of all pages. Whew, there’s a lot of barriers and waste in them there web sites.


experienced accessibility analysts , like found on webAxe podcasts and blog, can sort out good, bad, and just problematic features. Automated validation tools can point out many outright problems and hint at deeper design troubles.


Let’s up the level and assume we could triage the whole web, yep, all billions of pages as matched with experimental results of real evaluators, say visually impaired web heads like me and those accessibility experts. This magic metric, MM, has three levels: OK, no show stoppers by human evaluators; at 80% agreement; DO OVER, again with human evaluators 80% agreement of awfulness; and remaining requiring reconciliation of human and metric. Suppose an independent crawler or search engine robot used this MM to tag sites and pages. probably nothing would happen. but if…

Action: declare a week of clean Up the web, where the MM invokes real Acton to perform “do over” or “reconcile”. Now, we’re paying attention to design factors that really matter and instigating serious design thought. All good, all we need is that MM.

Action: which profession produces the most accessible pages, services, and sites? computer scientists seem to be consistently remiss on headings, but are chemists or literary analysts any better? If acm.org is as bad as I claim, are other professional societies more concerned about quality of service to their members? what are they doing the same or differently?
How does the quality of accessibility affect the science of design as applied to web pages, sites, and applications?

Accessibility needs a Science of Design and Vice Versa


Accessibility concerns often lead into productive unexplored design regions.
Accessibility and usability are well defined if underused principles of product quality.  The ‘curb cuts’ principle suggests that a defect with respect to these qualities is in a poorly understood or unexplored area of a design. Often  a problem that presents only a little trouble for the expected “normal” user is a major hassle or show stopper for those with certain physical or cognitive deficiencies. However, those flaws compound and often invisibly reduce productivity for all users. Increasingly, these deficiencies arise from ambient environmental conditions such as glare, noise, and potential damage to users or devices.


Moreover, these problems may also indicate major flaws related to the integrity of a design and long term maintainability of the product. An example is the omission of Headings on an HTML page that makes it difficult to find content and navigation divisions with a screen reader. This flaw usually reveals an underlying lack of clarity about the purpose and structure of the website and page. Complexity and difficult usability often arise from missing and muddled use cases. Attitudes opposing checklist standards often lead to perpetuating poor practices such as the silly link label “click here”.


The ‘curb cuts’ principle leads toward a theory of design that  requires remedy of accessibility problems not as a kindness to users nor to meet a governmental regulation but rather to force exploration through difficult or novel parts of the design terrain. The paradigm of “universal design” demands attention to principles that should influence requirements, choice of technical frameworks, and attention to different aesthetics and other qualities.   For example, design principles may address  where responsibilities lie for speech information to a user, thus questioning whether alternative architectures should be considered. Applying this principle early and thoroughly potentially removes many warts of the product that now require clumsy and expensive accessibility grafts or do-overs.


Just as the design patterns movement grew from the architectural interests of Christopher Alexander, attention to universal design should help mature the fields for software and hardware. The “curb cuts” principle motivates designers to think beyond the trim looking curb to consider the functionality to really serve and attract ever more populations of end users.


The accessibility call for action, accommodation, translates into a different search space and broader criteria plus a more ethically or economically focused trade-off analysis. now, design is rarely explicitly exploration, criterion’s, or tradeoff-focused. but the qualitative questions of inclusive design often jolt designers into broader consider of design alternatives. web standards such as WCAG 2.0 provide ways to prune alternatives as well as generate generally accepted good alternatives. It’s that simple: stay within the rules, stray only if you understand the rationales for these rules, and temper trade-off analysis with empathy toward excluded users or hard cool acceptance of lost buyer or admirers. well, that’s not really so simple, but expresses why web standards groups are so important and helpful — pruning, generating, and rationalizing is their contribution to web designers professional effectiveness and peace of mind.


Action: Reconstruct a textbook design to identify assumptions about similarities and differences of users. Force the design to explore extremes such as missing or defective mouse and evaluate the robustness of the design.


Action: Find an example of a product that illustrates universal design. How were its design alternatives derived and evaluated?

revving Up our computational Thinking on accessibility

POSH (Plain Old semantic HTML) and headings

POSH focuses our attention on common structural elements of HTML that add
meaning to our content with Headings and Lists as regular features. An enormous
number of web pages are free of headings or careless about their use. The
general rule is to outline the page in a logical manner: h1, H2, h3,…,H6, in
hierarchical ordering.
why is this so important for accessibility?

  1. headings. support page abstraction. reaching a page, whether first or return
    visit, I, and many other screen reader users, take a ‘heading tour’. Using our ‘h’ key repeatedly to visit headings, gives a rapid-fire reading of the parts of the page and an
    introduction to the terminology of the web site and page content. bingo! a good
    heading tour and my brain has a mental map and a quick plan for achieving my
    purpose for being there. No headings and, argh, I have to learn the same thing
    through links and weaker structures like lists. At worst I need to tab along
    the focus trail of HTML elements, usually a top-bottom, left-right ordering.

  2. Page abstraction enables better than linear search if I know roughly what I
    want. for example, looking for colloquium talks on a Cs website is likely to
    succeed by heading toward News and Events, whatever. with likely a few dozen
    page parts, linear search is time and energy consuming, although often leading
    to interesting distractions.

  3. Page abstraction encourages thinking about cohesion of parts, where to
    modularize, how to describe parts, and consistent naming. This becomes
    especially important for page maintainers, and eventually page readers, when
    new links are added. Just like software design, cohesion and coupling plus
    naming help control maintenance. An example of where this goes wrong is the
    “bureaucratic guano” on many government web pages, where every administrator
    and program manager needs to leave their own links but nobody has the page
    structure as their main goal.

  4. while it’s not easy to prove, but plausible, SEO (search engine optimizers)
    claim headings play a role in page rankings. This appeals to good sense that
    words used in headings are more important so worth higher weights for search
    accuracy. It might also mean pages are better designed, but this is just
    conventional wisdom of users with accessibility needs.

so, we have abstraction, search, design quality, and metrics applied to the
simple old semantic HTML Heading construct.


Now, this rudimentary semantic use of Headings is the current best practice, supplementing the deprecated Accs Tags that all keyboard users can exploit to reach standard page locations, like search box and navigation. Rather, headings refine and define better supplements for access tags. Going further, the ARIA brand of HTML encourages so-called ‘landmarks’ which can also be toured and help structure complex page patterns such as search results. The NVDA screen reader reports landmarks as illustrated on AccessibleTwitter and Bookshare. Sites without even Headings appear quaint and deliberately unhelpful.

The Readable conference program Problem

I recently attended a conference of 3.5 days with about 7 tracks per session.
The document came as a PDF without markup, apparently derived from a WORD
document with intended use in printed form. Oh, yeah, it was 10MB download with
decorations and all conference info.


I was helpless to read this myself. yes, I could use the screen reader but
could not mentally keep in mind all the times and tracks and speakers and
topics. I couldn’t read like down Tracks or across sessions nor mark talks to
attend. Bummer, I needed a sighted reader and then still had to keep the
program in mind while attending.


A HTML version of the preliminary program was decidedly more usable. Hey, this is what hypertext is all about! Links from talks to tracks and sessions and vice versa, programs by days or half-days subdivided on pages, real HTML data tables with headers that can be interpreted by screen reader, albeit still slowly and painfully.
that’s better, but would be unpopular with sighted people who
wanted a stapled or folded printout.


OK, we know this is highly structured data so how about a database? This would
permit, with some SQL and HTML, wrapping, generation of multiple formats, e.g.
emphasizing tracks or sessions or topics,… But this wouldn’t likely distill
into a suitable printable document. Actually, MS WORD is programmable, so the
original route is still possible but not often considered. Of course, it’s often more difficult to enter data into forms for a database, but isn’t that what student helpers are for? Ditto the HTML generation from the database.


The best compromise might be using appropriate Header styles in WORD and
use an available DAISY export so the program in XML could be navigated in our
book readers.


This example points the persistent problem that PDF, which prints well and
downloads intact, is a bugger when it loses its logical structure. Sighted
readers see that structure, print disable people get just loads of text. This
is especially ironic when the parts originally had semantic markup lost in
translation to PDF, as occurs with NSF proposals.


so, here I’m trying to point out a number of abstraction problems, very
mundane, but amenable to an accommodation by abstracting to a database type of
model or fully exploiting markup and accessible format in WORD. Are there other
approaches? Does characterizing this problem in terms of trade-offs among abstractions and loss of structural information motivate computer scientists to approach their conference responsibilities different?


More generally, accessibility strongly suggests that HTML be the dominant document type on the web, with PDF, TXT, WORD, etc. As supplementary. Adobe and free lance consultants work very hard to explain how PDF may be made accessible, but that’s just not happening, nor will this replace probably millions of moldering PDFs. Besides negligent accessibility, forcing a user out of a browser into a separate application causes resources allocated and inevitable security updates.

Design by Progressive Enhancement&lt


‘Graceful degradation’ didn’t work for web design, e.g. when a browser has javascript turned off, or an older browser is used, or a browser uses a small screen. Web designers recast their process to focus on content first, then styles, and finally interactive scripting. There’s a lot more in the practitioner literature that might well be amenable to computational thinking, e.g. tools that support and ease the enhancement process as well as the reverse accommodation of browser limitations. Perhaps tests could be generated to work in conjunction with the free screen reader, to encourage web developers to place themselves in the user context, especially requiring accessibility.


So, here’s a challenge for those interested in Science of Design, design patterns, and test methods with many case studies on the web, discussed in blogs and podcasts.

Touring CS websites by screen reader
— download MP3


Are you up for something different? Download

MP3 illustration of POSH Computer Science websites 45 minutes, 20 MB
. This is me talking abot what I find at the following locations, pointing out good and bad accessibility features. You should get a feeling of life using a screen reader and how I stumble around websites. And, please, let me interject that we’re all learning to make websites better, including my own past and present.

Note: I meant POSH=”Plain old semantic HTML” but sometimes said “Plain old simple HTML”. Sorry about the ringing alarm. Experimental metadata: Windows XP, Firefox, NVDA RC 2009, ATT Mike and Neo speech Kate, PlexTalk Pocket recorder.

Web Sites Visited on CSE screen reader tour


  1. U. Texas Austin


    Comments:
    Firm accessibility statement;
    graphic description?;
    headings cover all links?;
    good to have RSS;
    pretty POSH


  2. U. Washington


    Comments:
    No headings, uses layout tables (deprecated);
    good use of ALT describing graphics;
    not POSH


  3. U. Arizona


    Comments:
    all headings at H1, huh?;
    non informative links ‘learn more’;
    not POSH


  4. CS at cmu.edu


    Comments:
    no headings;
    non informative graphics and links;
    unidentified calendar trap;
    definitely not POSH


  5. Computational Thinking Center at CMU


    Comments:
    no headings;
    strange term probes:;
    non informative links PPT, PDF;
    poor POSH


  6. CRA Computing Research Association


    Comments:

    no headings;
    interminable links unstructured list;
    not so POSH


  7. ACM.org and DL portal


    Comments:
    irregular headings on main page;
    no headings on DL portal;
    noninformative links to volumes;
    hard to find category section;
    poo POSH


  8. Computer Educators Oral History Project CHEOP


    Comments:
    straightforward headings;
    don’t need “looks good” if standard;
    good links;
    POSH enough


  9. NCWIT National Center Women Information Technology


    Comments:
    doesn’t conform to accessibility statement;
    graphics ALT are not informative;
    link ‘more’ lacks context;
    headings irregular;
    do over for POSH

So, what to do with these POSH reports?


Clearly, some sites could use some more work to become world class role models for accessibility. At first glance, my reports and those that would be compiled from validator’s like WebAim WAVE indicate that some HTML tweaking would yield improvements. Maybe, but most websites are under the control of IT or new media or other departments, or maybe outsourced to vendors. Changes would then require negotiation. Another complication is that once a renovation starts, it is all too easy to use the change for a much more extensive overhaul. Sometimes, fixes might not be so easy, as often is indicated by the processes of progressive enhancement. This is classical maintenance process management, as in software engineering.


However, hey, why not use this as a design contest? Which student group can produce a mockup shadow website that is attractive and also meets the WCAG, validator, and even the SLGer tests?


Just saying, here’s a great challenge for CSE to (1) learn more about accessibility and web standards, (2) make websites role models for other institutions, and (3) improve service for prospective students, parents, and benefactors.

conclusion: A Call To Action

To the proclamation, let us informally add

  • whereas society, including the Cs field itself, requires that all information, computer-based technology be available to all persons with disabilities,

  • whereas computer science is the closest academic field to the needs and opportunities for universal accessibility,


  • Disabled individuals are particularly under-represented in computing fields, in disparate proportion to the importance of disability in the economic and social well-being of the nation

  • therefore
  • computer science educators will adapt their curricula to produce students with professional awareness of the range of human abilities, the resources for responding to needs of persons with disabilities

  • computer science education will be open and welcoming to all persons with disabilities both helping the person to reach their own employment potential and opportunity to contribute to society and (2) inform educators and other students about their abilities, needs, domain knowledge,

See next post for Webliography

Comments, Corrections, Complaint?

Please add your comments below and I’ll moderate asap.
Yes, I know there are lots of typos but I’m tired of listening to myself, will proof-listen again later.
Longer comments to slger123@gamail.com. Join in the Twitter discussion of #accessibility by following me as slger123.


Thanks for listening.

Disabled? Sorry, *NO* insurance for you!

In line with current U.S. rumblings about our massively messed up health care system, here is my personal diatribe against insurance profiteering, and appeal for attention toward disability services. I don’t usually post negative stuff or rants, but we’re all angry and my story of disability resilience is part of the record submitted in support for a public option. Other Vision Losers may find comparable experiences and those not yet disabled may gain some insight about life becoming disabled in early retirement before Medicare in these dark ages of private insurance.

Note: there are many local geographic references, with some Prescott AZ Resources for Visually Impaired.

Background

I have myopic macular degeneration, a lifelong progressive deterioration from birth or growth spurt causing elongated eyeballs and correctable near-sightedness until too much retinal atrophy. My last sliver of good vision left in 2005 taking driving, print reading, face recognition, and surrounding detail into a swirling world of haze. Glaucoma onset at age 60 now costs about $800/year in standard meds that control eye pressure. I have had no other treatments since 1998 with cataract removal following extensive surgery for retinal detachment in 1993. I currently have 3 retinal exams per year with the usual tests.


I am single, not a veteran, did not seek employment after job termination in 2005, preceding my eligibility for employment-based disability benefits by about 6 months. I easily qualified for social security disability at age 63 when I was using COBRA health insurance at about $7000/year.


I have basically provided my own rehab and general disability support, easily totaling over $15,000 out of pocket. Following legal blindness in 2006 I retrained myself in computer use and began seeking orientation and mobility training (OMT) for navigating with a white canes and crossing streets. After applying to AZ social services, I waited over a year for this critical safety and independence training with only one trainer in the county, who quit from low pay. Eventually, after crying at a local low vision information group, a school special educator gained state certification and provided a few lessons and a $35 cane. I am truly grateful for the trainer who kept me moving forward when I was becoming home bound. Second Sight local rehab and People Who Care provided low vision overviews but covering information I had already learned myself.

Health “Insurance” to Susan: Sorry, you own your disability until Medicare.

At end of COBRA in late 2006, I found it difficult to get response from United Healthcare (in Florida) on continued coverage but expected costs over $10,000. AARP insurance rejected me outright because of the 3 glaucoma meds which they would be forced to cover. My professional organization, IEEE, had just suspended its health insurance offerings. I was surprised to find no possible configuration of insurance for an otherwise fit pre-medicare retiree. Turning to a local broker, I found the only choice, at $3500/year, with Blue Cross of AZ which demanded waiver for related eye condition costs. Note that I would have become eligible for Medicare 2 years after admission to social security disability which turned out to be just after I reached age 65 anyway. Isn’t it ironic that the deterioration of a few body cells at the wrong time can alter one’s retirement resources by so many factors?


Like many people independently “insured”, I but down visiting doctors in expectation that any condition occurring after start of insurance would be considered pre-existing, i.e. subject to rejection or rescission. I was basically only covered for accidents. Ironically, my inability to gain OMT increased my chance of accidents out walking or getting around. Indeed, in 2004, a decorative rock near the Prescott court house sent me to the ER for five stitches at about $1000. Inevitably, disability increases medical costs, even for insured people, if the social context, the physical environment, and safety training are minimal or nil.


One effect of visual disability is the extreme difficulty of getting usable health insurance information. I’m as Internet adept as anybody, with email since 1977, but the Medicare, prescription drug, and health insurance websites and documents are painful to use, requiring hours of work and absorption of information in memory. Now, I’m good at web stuff, but filling outh pages of forms is beyond my ability, hence I resorted to a local broker to do this for me, accepting their offerings and trusting their advice. Note that I do have personal helpers, in-house teenagers, but not up to handling complex medical forms I cannot read to check. I also felt that prescription drug policies were partially hoax as I could not find a way to match 3 standard glaucoma meds with 165 choices all couched in weasel words. A consumer protection action could well be applied to make all policies simple enough that even a visually impaired non-Ph.D. had a chance.

My Personal Feelings

  1. The Medicare disability gap, no help for two years, is outrageous. Here is a mature individual adapting their personal life, trying to maintain productivity and independence, seeking but finding only minimal social services, with this gap at the worst possible moment. Who thought of that torture for the permanently disabled?

  2. Social services: rehab are available only if you’re working, want to work, veteran, in school, or really poor. Near retired are on your own. I called everywhere to find OMT and get in touch with local low vision education resources. I was willing to pay for a consultant to guide me at a faster pace, but no such person existed. There were none when I needed them, nada, just a waiting list. Eye doctors refer to low vision specialists, located in Phoenix, who pushes exorbitantly expensive optical devices. Instead, being a technologist myself, I attended an accessibility exhibition in L.A., found podcasts and product demos, and, at a cost of nearly $15,000, assembled my own assistive technology regime. I also began writing a blog at https://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com to share my experiences with others in the same boat.


    Just imagine how hard it’s going to be on both the services and citizens as more baby boomers lose vision and need both mobility and computing re-training? There are standard occupational and educational training programs but the jobs are ill-paid, yielding much better services in coastal cities. How many low vision people, other than me, will you see walking around Prescott, although an estimated 9000 in Yavapai County?
    At this point, the most valuable service I’ve received is that $35 cane and a few lessons at crossing streets that, of course, lack audible signals or driver warnings. I truly believe that white cane is my ticket to the only freedom I can have. There is no viable public transportation, So I’m often using taxis if rides are not available. And notice that the Community Center, within walking distance of my home, has no sidewalk access.


    In contrast, before the recession, I was formulating plans to move to Tucson where SOAVI offers regular services comparable to Lighthouse in major cities and welcomed my computing expertise as a volunteer. Retirement-rich Prescott is incredibly service-poor.
    I regret that so few other low vision people in the Prescott area can receive comparable training. I also note that there is no computer training I am aware of nor any exposure to assistive technology comparable to the audio reading, book services, and more available to veterans and students. As a technologist, I found my own resources, and I am proposing such information through courses at OLLI at Yavapai College.

  3. How it feels to be a citizen deprived of health insurance “choices”.
    • Not health but rather,
      corporations insurance. They determine the risk pools, not the forces of demographics and society. Some person pushed around the paper to deny me coverage for my pre-existing condition and, at AARP, of any insurance. Managers and policy makers determined that, no matter what else about my health, I would reduce profits in annual exams. I’ve read that about 400,000 health corporation employees spend their working hours paid by premiums to deny insurance to citizens in order to pass profits to shareholders and corporate bosses. This is as evil a form of capitalism as could be imagined with no innovation, public service, or redeeming values, just pure profiteering.

    • Even more insulting, as a “self-pay” I got to fork over for the full rate rather than any reduction negotiated among doctors and insurers. Luckily, I had only year and a half of routine exams for my “pre-existing condition” but lived in fear of a major treatment that could run into $10,000s.

    • I am appalled at state politicians and tax payers who refuse resources to
      our system of social services so starved of trained rehab people that low vision individuals sacrifice safety and independence that probably lead to higher medical costs, e.g. $1000 when I tripped over a decorative rock down town Prescott.

    • I also resent second class status as a citizen who has for nearly 20 years supplemented family members in and out of personal difficulties, but now becoming taxpayers. I was a willing safety net, but there’s no net for me.

    • A visiting friend recently got excited at the national anthem played at the square, but I could find no feeling of national loyalty, only sorrow for myself and the many other disabled people I know who, with great resilience, overcome disability but always end up with less financially and more aggravation and deprivation from lifetime medical services. You own your pre-existing condition, so it goes, but why should the U.S. support a medical industrial complex that profits from exclusion of persons with disabilities.

    • Finally, I know all too many people who remain mired in companies they dislike, submitting to discriminations practices, enslaved due to health insurance.

Recommendations

Abolish the profiteering, paper pushing, intrusive health insurance companies and provide full support for a public option. No country can claim it is “good and great” when its health care system is rotten and wasteful at the core. Why fight terrorism abroad and still facilitate slavery and profiteering from illness and disability in the home system?


Additionally, extend the notion of health support to include the social services, rehab specialists, training centers, and public support that keeps people with disabilities productive and not needing more costly medical services. Just adding 3 more rehab people to the Prescott area would add, what, maybe $300,000 or about one middle-class house or a $1 more taxes. Now, realize that everybody will be disabled eventually and these specialists are even more essential.


Note that the disability I describe is a “social construct” as much as an individual condition. I have rather resiliently responded to my condition with great personal growth while the insurance and social services have constituted far more challenge and distress. I have only faced the full force of this dysfunctional system for about 10 of the 15 years of my progressive disability while many others have a lifetime. I have come out with a sense of service to others exhibited in my blog writing, advocacy in social media, and participation in lifelong learning distance education opportunities at Yavapai College.


Fix the system by abolishing private health insurance, acknowledging that this impoverished dogma of capitalism is far worse than any possible replacement that serves all the people. Apply the funds, after retraining insurance paper-pushers, to building a disability friendly society that, like the curb cut, will improve lives for everybody.

Addendum: So now we know, sorry,, the nation cannot afford health insurers!

Many U.S. citizens have lost our innocence about capitalism watching the fiasco of Wall Street bailouts and, now, the role of the medical-industrial-government complex in our personal lives and 1/6 of the national economy. So, it’s now established baseline that acceptable universal health care can be provided for 3% overhead, i.e. Medicare. And, facts vary, but let’s assume premiums carry 20% overhead, including profits to shareholders, bonuses to executives, salaries to underwriters (i.e. those who deny insurance or claims), adjusters who hassle doctors and their administrators over claims, processors who actually do work comparable to the Medicare 3% overhead. Oh, yeah, also lobbying, lawyering, and the usual industry hobnobbing at expensive places. All this, when in many locations there are near monopolies or few competitors. And more along the lobbying vein are the subsidiary think tanks that produce reports to influence legislators.

Can the U.S. economy actually sustain 20% versus 3% overhead costs? Wouldn’t we be nuts to continue such a costly system? Well, not if it were geared toward innovating and modernizing health care records and studies of comparative treatment effectiveness. But that’s not happening, at least for the benefit of the citizenry. No innovation, inhumanc3e denial of services, isn’t this just pure profiteering?


Here’s a counter-proposal if U.S. citizens cannot give up on capitalism in its most appropriate context, as argued by NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman. Knowing 3% overhead is the baseline, allow 5% of premiums for profit private companies. That’s all, covering administration, executive salaries, and dividends. Sorry, insurance industry investors, and I’m probably one somewhere in my diversified portfolio. Profits have been inflated, costs have not been controlled, it’s time for reparations after the war on those with pre-existing conditions. But won’t the health industry go nuts and up their charges? Well, let the insurers and health care providers go to negotiating like other claims, rather than allow the insurers to have the final call. Now, let’s slice off another 1% of premiums into a fund to improve healthcare delivery, doctors’s lives in underserved districts, the social service gap I’ve described. Isn’t that a better trade-offhann corporate bonuses or deniers’s salaries?

Bottom Line: If the for-profit insurers’ cannot even come close to a current public option, i.e. Medicare, the country cannot afford to subsidize their dogmatic capttalism. For those who cannot abide government-run systems, give a private option capped at a reasonable level of 5% overhead, stripped of denial privileges and forced to innovate and streamline to survive.

Contact

August 19 2009
Susan L. gerhart, Ph.D.
https://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com
blog “As Your World Changes”, ‘Adjusting to vision loss with class, using technology’

slger123@gmail.com

Sputnik boosted our lives!

What if theU.S. rather than Russia had launched the first earth satellite?

This post is not directly in the theme of adjusting to vision loss but rather memoir-ish in the wake of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the death of Walter Cronkite. I’ve always wondered how our lives would be different if, just what if, the U.S. had been first instead of Sputnik. I’ll tell my story.

Two burning questions: Why? and What if?

How did Russia come to be first to launch
Sputnik when the space powers were roughly equal?

My knowledge of history, even in my own lifetime, is rather weak, but here’s my take on what happened. See the references below.


1957 was a time of mutual fear between and against two nuclear superpowers. The artificial satellite catalyst was in the works as part of an International Geophysical Year program with a scientific theme. Neither U.S. or Russian government leaders were enthusiastic while war-bred technical tribes were chomping to launch. Mars-minded Von Braun even rolled out a satellite-mounted Redstone missile to the launch pad but got nixed in favor of a Navy Jupiter. Meantime, a Russian technical group managed to design an ultra-simple 180 lb. beeping ball to ride replace a nose cone on monster missiles under test.


News reports shocked first the scientists in the know then informed a confused U.S. public. It was hard to imagine the engineering or purpose of a beeping ball circling the earth, even passing over the U..S. twice without notice before news announcement. With missile fear came the question of whether the satellite could attack, as warned in civil defense pamphlets and school room desk ducking. Apparently, Russian had been working on really big missiles needed for large nuclear payloads that the U.S. had superior technology to miniaturize. Nevertheless, U..S. missile rocketry was faulty and embroiled in military turb battles.

President Eisenhower seemed not to recognize the political whammy of a satellite first launch but rather was more interested in high flying planes and future satellites with reconnaissance capabilities to sort out the strengths and weaknesses of Soviet military forces. With launch of bigger dog carrying Sputnik 2, the American public grew even more scared and impatient. A rushed effort with existing U.S. rocket power failed in public but eventually got up to speed in 1958. Then came the rivalry first man in space and wild-eyed thoughts of progressing rapidly from Earth to the Moon, with Russia setting the pace.

How would our lives be different if America, not Russia, had been first?

And here come the side-effects that changed our lives to this day.


Eisenhower started an Advanced Research Project Agency to execute both catch-up and public assurance projects. Now, remember that the U.S. capability was mostly in place but the Russians made the decision first, not from superiority but rather follow-through. Was the U.S. weakness in public will, leadership, technological prowess, project management, military strategy? Eisenhower had an enormous juggling challenge: secret or public, civilian or military, scientific dominant or engineering demonstrations, private industry or government executed, etc.? Currently, we see a National Science Foundation, NASA, ARPA, and vast military industrial complex created warily during the Sputnik-stimulated space race of the 1950s.


Waves of public education concerns generate institutional opportunities in the belief that the U.S. intellectual and technological weakness had lead to the first satellite defeat and possible future losses in space races. With a sense of investment inn public education infrastructure, U.S. science and technology leaped ahead.
Now, it’s sickening to experience the loss of investment sense in schools.

But look what the whole world got for very little — the Internet, as created and fostered by military and then educational institutions for more than two decades. Would the U.S. have developed the Internet without the Sputnik loss? Who knows, but on balance this seems to have been a great battle to loose at a time when a generally good economy and scary political system forces could let such a technology bloom.

References for History of Sputnik and the Eisenhower era

  1. NBC News reporter Jay Barbree 50 years of space reporting. Good account of Sputnik politics on through the moon and downward. Informative news-eye account of space successes and tragedies. Available on Bookshare.
  2. the Heavens and the Earth: A political History of the Space Age. Dry but very informative trace of politics, personalities, and technologies.
    Available on Bookshare.

  3. Fear of Sputnik: NPR interview with Jay Barbree
  4. Online News Hour: Sputnik revisited. Political historians analyze and recall 40 year anniversary of Sputnik.
  5. The Sputnik Shock effect on education. One academic’s account.
  6. Sputnik, the satellite that inspired generations
  7. sputnik, the satellite that started it all
  8. Happy birthday, sputnik. Thanks for the Internet. Credit to DARPA hence to Sputnik for Internet development.

Personal account: sputnik Launched My career

Sputnik in the sky of teenage minds


Lions roared across the stage under the traffic light in the center of town. Ferris wheels spun in front of apartment windows in the multi-use dwellings that lined Main Street. The country kids stayed in town after the day’s parade to spend their allowances on the rides, carnival games, food booths, and raffle tickets. It was the first weekend in October, 1957, and the annual Utica Homecoming was in full swing.


My friends Sam, Russ, and Marjorie and I were enjoying bashing in fenders on a donated wrecked car. One of us asked about the sputnik news and we all scanned the skies looking for a light that might be the beeping ball that President Ike and his press people were pooh-poohing. Little did we know what it meant to be teenagers at the beginning of the space age.

It’s hard to remember, but the physics and math teachers seemed to gain respect, even rock star status, after Sputnik. However, a nasty principal turned off the TV telecast of Alan Sheppard first manned sub-orbital trip in favor of some stupid test, dampening our connection with the outside world and major events. Well, maybe we did just want to exercise student privilege to barter our way out of one more test.

Early access to computers hooks one kid


I trace my career back to sputnik’s influence on the National science education programs that began to ensure a technologically advanced populace. I attended an NSF-sponsored summer pre-college session. There I met my first computer, an
IBM 650,
which about a dozen students programmed using cards. It was love at first punch for me, I just knew programming was the most delightful intellectual activity. At that time, I had no clue how careers worked, e.g. that there was an engineering field, or what mathematicians did, or how statistical applications were applied in finance or science. coming from that small Ohio town, I was only trying to figure out what was happening at any moment with my peers, books, and opportunities that seemed to propel me ahead.


One key idea rattled around in my head, starting at that very first summer in Carbondale, Illinois. we could write programs that summed a long series of n numbers, using n =100, or n =1000, or n =1000000 if we could actually type in a million numbers to add up. In one loop we could get a total and then print it out. But how could we know it was really the correct answer?


so, I started college with one leg up, whatever that saying means.
I was hooked on computing in 1961, in a way that eliminated alternative career paths in favor of one that would be driven by my inner love of programming. while this was a technical field, my expression of programming has remained as much artistic as utilitarian. This ambiguity has offered a theme for nearly 50 years, but at the cost of many ups and downs as I followed one career opportunity after another, sometimes falling into pits or walking off cliffs.


My college choice, Ohio Wesleyan University, was sparked by an alumnus, principal of the Utica High school, decided by a nice scholarship that supplemented my accountant father’s salary and brought me into contact with a range of east coast and Midwest bred students. I majored in math in those days before computer science or software engineering were named fields. Boy, did I get lucky finding my very own personal computer, an
IBM 1620
that this liberal arts college used for both administration and teaching science and math. It seemed “personal” because it was available to me for hours on end as I taught myself more programming techniques, culminating with a compiler as a senior project.

And the right brand of math made computing interesting


More odd chances for professional development spun off from the sputnik challenge as I tutored high school teachers in the summer as they learned the “new math” and a bit of computing. I loved giving a demo of the 1620, the size of a coffin with a nearby even larger card reader/punch. I showed them games, a few computations, and how to play songs on the line printer — like anchors, Away.


This branch of math, eventually known as discrete structures, was really what I had wanted to study not that dull calculus that dealt with change qualities I didn’t relate to their science underpinnings. Rather I spent hours working out the closed formulas in the appendix of Apostle calc text, like 1+2+…N=N*(N+1)/2, isn’t that cool? as I programmed, I always faced that “is this the correct answer?” dilemma. a course in philosophy of science gave me the inklings of a response, the principle of “induction” and the realization that science wasn’t just a blend of people and ideas I couldn’t fully appreciate, but indeed there were defined concepts like theories and reasoning.

Sometimes it takes decades to know what was important


Meantime, on the political scene, the sputnik shock morphed into Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis. One very serious politically minded upper class student forced our dorm dinner table to listen to sobering words that trickled into our closed campus world from the news on TV and radio. Now, my current reading on the space race tells of roles of cameras launched in satellites or carried on dangerous U2 missions. I really appreciate that a forty-ish aged president and his aides had the energy, wisdom,patience, and world knowledge to bypass a crisis with Russia through Cuba. However, also developing during this time was the massive military-industrial-complex warned by the much older Eisenhower who had generated so many missile,, and defense programs during his term.


My clueless ness about the political forces of the world remained through my active career as I occasionally visited these defense companies and government agencies such as NSA, all seeking the holy grail of program correctness. My innocent love of programming and curiosity about the correctness conundrum were leading to regions of worry about international competition with U.S. and Japan, and backlash against the correctness mission that several times hurt my income while also opening new professional opportunities. I still wonder how much easier programming would be today if the Japanese Fifth Generation project hadn’t succumbed to its national economic failure.

Learning computing before official computer science

Graduate school seemed on my path, but how could I exit gracefully from mathematics?
University of Michigan had a strangely titled program in communication sciences, an eclectic combination of fields that later branched into artificial intelligence, psychology, hardware design, software engineering, and, strangest of all, speech synthesis. the latter field, concentrating on modeling of the human vocal track and units of speech, is actually the technology use most today in my assistive tools.


The programming class was a triumph for me as the major exercise was similar to my undergrad senior project, a translator. In those days, a major university computer ran batches of punched card programs with an ever increasing turn around time as the semester load increased. In this project, we had two tries to get our program to run, with 4 days wait. I checked, double checked, and checked again, hand simulating my code, and indeed got a successful run.

Where would I be without Sputnik?

Who knows, but I believe I was one of those youngsters who, exposed to computing in its purest form, at just the right age, got hooked for a lifetime. The circumstances were traceable to Sputnik after-effects. However, it was my personal curiosity about mathematical induction that took me away from a probably failure as a mathematician to a contributor of some important ideas in computer science. I greatly regret that this central concept got muddled in academic, even international secrecy, squabbles and was deemed too hard for ordinary programmers.


So, that’s one personal reflection on Sputnik as a life-changing event here on earth, leading to a moon I can still pick out in the night sky, but a movie of moon steps I can sometimes amplify by video but most firmly held in my memory and hearing.

Listen to
Audio version of this post and
Sputnik beeps

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Resilience: Bouncing Back from Vision Loss

Definition: Resilience: : an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
Miriam Webster


This post assembles some thoughts on resilience in adjusting to vision loss. Sighted readers of this blog will learn more about how to help Vision Losers with their various challenges. Visually impaired readers may glean both encouragement and practical tips to facilitate a reliant approach to vision loss. Three books are referenced: Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards; A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts; and What Blind People Want Sighted People to Know about
Blindness’ by Harry Martin. This post builds on emotional themes from the past 2 years.

Book: Resilience as Articulated by Elizabeth Edwards


Listening to the May 21 Diane Rehm interview with Elizabeth Edwards on her new book got me thinking about the factors that affect my personal resilience regarding vision loss. Let’s forget the modifier “easily” in the above definition but consider success measured in timeframe’s of months and probably other units relative to individuals, such as employment, relationships, or education. The main point is that some people seem more resilient; now, why is that?


Edwards is out there talking about her adversities because she has a limited life span in which she believes her testimonies will positively affect others. That worked for me. Her loss of parents is, of course, common to all of us, in my case, a mother’s 20 year battle with lupus and crippling arthritis while raising three children and helping her own parents. Edwards lost a 16 year old son in an automobile accident, trusting his ability to drive in slightly challenging situations, the feelings I still face with 20 somethings and remember from my own youth. Her unusually unpleasant and public problems with a philandering politician husband while fighting cancer even under the best possible financial basis are not what anyone wants to contemplate. Contrasted with early death, vision loss seems less of an adversity and more like a life alteration.


So, how did Edwards survive?
Well for one thing she finds it helpful to use her public position to talk and inspire others. Another approach is to make a major life change, like having an additional pair of children after the death of one. For her, now, the source of happiness is her start up furniture business where she has a total different framework of expertise, decisions, and colleagues.


I’ve written about energy management in the context of my Vision Loser tenets. Assuming one isn’t the type to just sit around in an adversity like vision loss, it’s interesting to examine what generates or consumes or wastes personal energy. Edwards so clearly expresses her energy rising from her furniture business in both the Diane Rehm interview and her book. I suggest that we introspect for what makes our energy levels ebb and flow, often evident in our -voices. Co-incidentally, our heroine interviewer Diane Rehm exhibits her own resilience for voice loss.

Book: The World’s Greatest Traveler, circa 1840

Jason Roberts’ book ‘A Sense of the World’ was recommended to me by a book club member. In a nutshell, British youth James Holman follows his mysterious vision loss in his early twenties with a lifetime of adventures becoming dubbed ‘The Blind Traveler’. Travel in that time period of the early 1800s is horses, coaches, boats, and feet with no way to make reservations at a motel chain or stop at fast foods at the next intersection. For sure, the travel stories are interesting, especially in Russia and France. And this is against a backdrop at home of inhospitable social treatment of blind individuals.


So, how did this blind man achieve his adventures of traveling 250,000 miles on his own. Actually, the book doesn’t describe much of what must certainly been some trying times, but here are a few factors. First, Holman had already accomplished one career in the British Navy, starting at age 12 and rising to a captain around age 16. His character was formed and he had just plain toiled very hard during his teens while France, Britain, and the U.S. battled politically and commercially. This gave him a status of officer and gentleman throughout his life, making him ever more welcome as he seemed to have accepted his vision loss and developed cheery manners for gaining help from others. Second, he found a really great gig in a philanthropic support for unfortunate naval officers, including rooms near Windsor and a bit of stipend and community. Third, he always stood out with his cane and blindness attracting attention and help. And fourth, he had a mental knack for geography and so the rigors of travel were endurable in the short run because he never seemed totally lost.
. Finally, he had a cute way of tethering himself to the moving carrier for exercise and escape from passivity.


Holman had established status as a paraprofessional who had studied chemistry and medicines at Edinburgh and his father’s pharmacy. In one travel saga, he carefully packed and memorized locations of a variety of medicines, anticipating that nobody could read the label, him from lack of eyesight and others not speaking the label language. This return to his hard won education and training to remain practically valuable to himself and others must have exhibited and facilitated resilience.


This is definitely an enjoyable book with a few additional lessons when reading and thinking about resiliency. Today with all our technology, we might not be able to get ourselves anywhere near the adventures of Holman. Logistically, we might feel obligated to gear up our GPS, WIFI for weather, and download GB of reading materials. Just packing all our adapter cords is a challenge. Moreover, safety is frequently a barrier as we face … And help along the way is often problematic. I am often asked if I need help when I pace around an airport. Sometimes I am trying to sort out the restrooms but often I just want a little exercise, but people sure think I’m lost. Even worse, occasionally people grab my arm and force me to lose balance if it looks like I’m coming too close to a chair or potted plan. Training strangers to be helpful and not hurtful just to carry on with simple travel necessities is a lot harder and more stressful than it might seem. .


What were the technologies for reading and writing in that time period?
Holman made part of his living from writing travel books, indeed invited into the Royal Society as well as battling another jealous and less talented writer. As described, he used a writing device of wires and carbon paper that could be transcribed later and free him from dictating. Now, continuing handwriting when you cannot see what you write is a skill I really admire, as I can barely sign my name!

Book: What Blind People Want Sighted People to Understand about Blindness

I find this self-published book by Floridian Harry Martin interesting in many ways but mainly as a mission I wish I could accomplish in my own life with my confusing states of eyesight and changing skill sets. Martin lost vision in his 30s and took full advantage of services provided for veterans. He doesn’t talk much about technology, but rather emphasizes relationships.


One illustrative discussion is how to tell somebody what you do, and do not, see, especially if they haven’t asked. Sure, this is a painful topic, probably more so for the sighted than the well-adjusted Vision Loser. It’s often difficult to understand how a person cannot see the food on a plate, suffering perhaps an unfortunate confusion among horseradish, mashed potato’s, and roast beef. Yet that person can walk along a contrasting sidewalk with speed and assurance. This consistent ambiguity is a routine stressor for the visually impaired.

Martin describes many aspects of mobility training, including living with a guide dog.
It’s not clear if Martin has any employment history as disabled but bases much of his social experience on community interactions. This author has used his time, energy, and organizational skills to assemble insight from many other blind people to complement his own experience.


I was especially grateful to feel included as a person with considerable residual eyesight but requiring the stamina and adjustments of print disability and mobility limitations. I also find it useful to know the extent and types of training that are available in regimented rehabilitation settings, way out of my league of experience with meager social services.

My Resilience experiences

It wasn’t until listening to Elizabeth Edwards talk about her life and book with the “national treasure” interviewer Diane Rehm that I could put a name on some of my own thinking. Indeed, a therapist tells me, “psychological resilience” is an important and well documented subject, especially related to childhood traumatic experiences. There, a “cookie person”, some one, just one person, taking an interest in a troubled child is often the most significant factor in how well children survive.

My bounces from interviews and books

Looking back 3 years to my “disability declaration day”, I can identify two major factors that moved me ahead. First was fortuitous listening to podcasts by author Susan Krieger on Dr. Moira gunn’s Tech Nation and on KQED Forum. I felt an instant recognition “yeah, vision loss in late career years, but look how she’s turned it into a positive personal and professional experience”. Although Krieger’s vision loss was unexpected and mine was anticipated for more than a dozen years, I got a sense of where I was heading. Krieger’s generous demonstration of her reading and writing equipment also provided me information I had not found available in my own community, and with the authority of her own written words.

The second factor for me was Bookshare.org. As soon as I could legally check the box for print disability, I took the simple authorization form to my optometrist, who faxed it in and within a matter of days I was registered at Bookshare and downloading. As soon as I realized I had loads of books I’d never have to pick up or return to a library outlet, no longer an easy trip for a non-driver, I really felt comforted. Then came a tangle of experiences with technology for reading, first a PC software book reader where I realized it was tough to read in bed with a Toshiba laptop. Then I investigated CD DAISY readers and ran across the APH Bookport on which I have since read hundreds of books. Bookshare’s newspaper outlet via NFB News Line enticed me to buy the Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager which provides hours of email, RSS, podcast, news, bookshare, and, recently, Twitter pleasure. Ironically, I’ve never managed to get paperwork into the NLS government provided service and remain uninspired by DRM and special equipment hassles.

But, oh, those social services


So, my passage into vision loss was relatively easy, illustrating resiliency from my technology fluency which lead to outreach beyond my current network. It’s true that to this day I have received very little help from social services which are directed to people in worse shape than I am, either financially or emotionally, often from aging. The one service that made an enormous difference was long cane training that followed my Identity Cane adoption and reflection on changed realization as a disabled person. This training and $35 device is absolutely essential for safety and mobility and only a supremely ungenerous society could deny its citizens access to safety. However, that’s how smaller, richer communities operate, as I compared with Southern Arizona Visually Impaired services.


For me, the greatest lesson in resilience in all of the above is that the individual must find a way to move ahead, action to couner the sense of loss, and immersion into the process of change. One goal of this blog is to display how well technology can provide that momentum and a range of partial solutions. This should motivate all of us to reach out to baby boomers who are technologically adept but not yet exposed to assistive technology. Note that the traditional low vision services and medical professions do a poor job, continuing to push optical solutions when audio is more appropriate.

I often read on MDSupport.orgabout the extensive and ongoing treatments for wet macular degeneration that delay and mitigate the effects of MD. I wish more people were aware of, and starting to practice use of, assistive technologies before what must be exhausting bouts of treatment. I’m convinced that medical insurance battles and the ups and downs of continued series of injections would have sapped my resiliency.

Now, there are also the daily bouts that require bouncing back. The hardest slaps for me are where I feel “professional betrayal”, like computing websites that really suck at accessibility. I also feel a twinge of demoralization when I am driven through a major intersection that I fear to cross walking because it lacks warning signals and is frequented by drivers saving a few seconds on there way to nowhere. Lack of public transportation and a richly designed community center reachable only by driving sadden me at poor public planning. But that’s another purpose of this blog, to do whatever I can to explain, illustrate with my own experience, and persistently nudge and complain. I never realized how much effort and precious energy went into activism, especially if it’s not a natural part of one’s personality.


I realize I’ve complained about lack of social service that are unevenly distributed across the U.S. Were I residing near a larger city I’d be attending more daily living classes and would have received far earlier mobility training. For me, this isn’t asking for government handouts but rather bemoaning the lack of trained personnel available to hundreds of thousands of people off the rehab grid, still active but needing different training. I simply cannot imagine what it’s like to be resilient without technology. Even ten years ago, I would have been unable to escape community limitations via technology.

Yet, I keep returning to my deepest appreciation for a $35 white stick and a few lessons from a part-time mobility trainer. Amazingly to me, the cane provides an altered sense of body location and control that in fact is a different sense of sight. Moreover, unfolding the cane causes my mind to click into independent but disabled mode, thinking every moment about what I cannot see. Also, reluctantly, I feel that I am now a symbol of both need and resilience.

Book Links

All books are available to members on Bookshare.org.
Note: I link to Amazon as an easy way to buy these books. But please do not buy the Kindle reader until
Amazon and universities stop discriminating against blind students. The issue here is that the Kindle has not been fully equipped with text to speech in its menus and operations so that all students have equal access to text books. Even then students who cannot physically hold and manipulate buttons will be left out.

  1. Elizabeth Edwards ‘Resilience: Reflections on Dealing with Life’s Adversities ‘
  2. Jason Roberts ‘A sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became the World’s greatest Traveler’ and
    NPR ‘Tales of a Blind Traveler’ review

  3. Harry Martin ‘What Blind People Want Sighted People to Know About Blindness

Related Posts from ‘As Your World Changes’


  1. 5 Tenets for Adjusting to Vision loss


  2. Memory, Identity, and Comedy: Conversations with author Susan Krieger


  3. What’s a print-disabled reader to do? Bookshare!


  4. Grabbing my Identity Cane to Join the Culture of Disability


  5. The Pleasures of Audio Reading


  6. Aren’t we Vision Losers lucky?


  7. Resources, support, and reality check for macular degenerates


  8. Consolidating links in Prescott Arizona about vision loss

The ‘Talking ATM’ Is My Invisible Dream Machine.

A twitter message alerted me to a milestone I surely didn’t care about a decade ago, but really appreciate now. This post explains how easy it is to use a Talking ATM. People with vision impairment might want to try out this hard-won disability service if not already users. Sighted people can gain insight and direct experience with the convenience of talking interfaces. But, hey, why shouldn’t every device talk like this?

The Milestone: 10 years of the Talking ATM

The history is well told in commemorative articles published in 2003. References below.
Pressure from blind individuals and advocacy organizations circa 2000, with the help of structured negotiators (lawyers), led banks to design and roll out Automated Teller Machines equipped with speech. Recorded audio wav files were replaced by synthetic voices that read instructions and lead the customer through a menu of transactions.

first, I’ll relate my experience and then extrapolate on broader technology and social issues.

My Talking ATM Story


As my vision slid away in 2006, I could no longer translate the wobbly lines and button labels on my ATM screen to comfortably perform routine cash withdrawals. Indeed, on one fateful Sunday afternoon I inserted my card, then noticed an unfamiliar pattern on the screen. Calling in my teenage driver, we noticed several handwritten notes indicating lost cards in the past hour. I had just enough cash in hand to make it through a Monday trip out of town, and immediately called the bank upon return Tuesday. A series of frustrating interactions ensued, like my ATM card could only be replaced by my coming in to enter a new PIN. But how was I to get to the office without a driver or cab fare when I was out of cash?


This seemed like a good time to familiarize myself with audio ATM functions, to lessen risk of having another card gobbled by a temporarily malfunctioning station. With lingering bad feelings about the branch of the Sunday fiasco, I recalled better experience at a different office after my six month saga on reversal of mortgage over-payment. Lesson learned—never put an extra 0 in a $ box and always listen or look carefully at verification totals.


I strolled into the quiet office and asked customer service to explain the audio teller operations. The pleasant service person whipped out a big headset and we headed out to the ATM station. Oddly, most stations are located in office alcoves or external walls. This one was outside the drive-by window to be shared by pedestrian and automotive customers.
ok, waiting for traffic to clear, we went through a good intro. I wasn’t as familiar with audio interfaces at that point in my Vision Loser life but I eventually worked up courage in the next few weeks to tackle the ATM myself with my own ear buds.


Well, 3 years later, I’m a pro and can get my fast cash in under a minute, unless my ear buds get tangled or I drop my cane. First problem is figuring out how to get in line, like standing behind a truck’s exhaust or walking out before a monster SUV. Usually I hang back, looking into the often dry bed of Granite Creek until the line is empty. Next step is to stand my white cane in a corner of the ATM column, feel around for the audio opening hidden in a ridged region, wait for the voice to indicate the station is live, shove in my card, and ready to roll. The voice, probably Eloquence, usually drones into a “Please listen carefully as the instructions have changed…”. Shut up, this will only take a minute and I don’t need to change volume or speed. Enter, type PIN, retype PIN if commonly hit a wrong key, and on to Main Menu (thinking of ACB Radio’s Technology jingle). 6 button down to Fast Cash, on by 20,…100,…, confirm and click, chug comes cash, receipt, and release of card. Gather up receipt, card, cane, and — important — remove ear buds, and I’m on my way.


Occasionally things go wrong. Recently, my receipt didn’t appear and customer service rep and I did a balance request and out spat two receipts, both mine. Kind of nerve wracking as somebody else could have intervened and learned of my great wealth. The customer service rep vowed to call in maintenance on the ATM, but I bet a few more receipts got wadded up that afternoon. Electro-mechanical failures often foil sophisticated software.


Another time, I finished my Fast Cash and waited for card release only to be given a “have we got a good deal for you” long-winded offer of a credit card. I wasn’t sure how to cancel out and still get my ATM card back. since I lecture family on the evils of the credit card, I was fuming at a double punishment. Complaining to the customer service rep inside, I learned sighted people were also not thrilled at this extra imposed step.


Now, to reveal the identity of the ATM, it’s Chase Bank, formerly Bank One, on Gurley Street near the historic Whisky Row of downtown Prescott AZ.
Although I haven’t performed any complex ATM interactions, it’s fair to say I’m a satisfied user and would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone with good hearing unafraid to perform transactions with engines and radios and cell conversations roaring all around. An indoor ATM would be a good step someday but, hey, this is a conservative town, not particularly pedestrian friendly. Mainly I appreciate that I can get my cash as part of a routine just like other people and I don’t even use up extra gasoline waiting in line.

Broader Issues of Talking Transactions

Does the ATM voice induce Synthetic Voice Shock?

I coined the term in Synthetic Voice Shock Reverberates Across the Divides to explain responses I heard about voices offered in assistive technologies to overcome vision loss. Personally, I hated Eloquence when I first heard it demonstrated but I rapidly grew to love my Precise Paul and friends as I realized that (1) the voices really were understandable and (2) I didn’t have any choice if I wanted to keep reading. I now wonder how people like me, slowly losing vision while off the rehab grid, learn about Talking ATM and related services. It hurts to think people give up that one step of independence from not knowing whom to ask or even if such services exist. And supposing someone does step up to an ATM ready to listen, are they tuned in to hearing synthetic speech sufficiently to make an informed choice whether the Talking Teller is an appropriate service for them? Did the Disability Rights movement fight through a decade only to have a generation of drop-outs from oldsters with difficulty adjusting to vision loss, a panoply of technology, and no-longer-young nerves?

Are Audio E-voting and Talking ATM’s Close Cousins?

I have described my experiences in 2008 voting without viewing. The voting device is a keypad like offered by the ATM I use while the voice is a combination of human narrated candidate and race announcements interspersed with synthetic speech instructions and navigation. I found this mode of voting satisfying, compared with having someone read the ballot to and mark for me. However, even my well-attuned ears and fingers seemed to get in trouble with speech speedup and slowdown, which I blame on poor interaction design. Note that many ATM and voting systems have origins in the NCR and Die bold product lines so usability and accessibility research lessons should carry over.

Why aren’t all check-out services as easy as banking?


I buy something at a store and then have a hassle at check-out finding a box on a screen or buttons I cannot see for typing in a debit card PIN. I’ve never understood why I can give a credit card number over a phone without signing but must sign if I swipe it on checkout. And giving a PIN to a family member or stranger isn’t good practice. Sometimes check-out can get really nasty as when a checker wouldn’t let me through because my debit card swiper was only age 20 – it’s my debit card, my groceries, my wine, and I’ll show you a social security age ID card. Geez, now we’re nervous every time we check out a Safeway since Aunt Susan has a short fuse after a tiring shopping session. If only the Point of sale thing talked and had tactile forms of PIN entry. I ask Safeway when accessible check-out will be possible and let them know the store has a visually impaired regular shopper.

Is audio interaction a literacy issue?


We are actually on track to a world where everything talks: microwave ovens, cards, color tellers, security systems, thermostats, etc. Text to speech is a commodity additional feature to onboard processors in digital devices. Indeed, we can hope this feature slips out of the aura of assistive technology into the main stream to enlarge the range of products and capabilities available to everybody. Why shouldn’t manuals be built in to the device, especially since the device is soon after purchase separated forever from its printed material? Why shouldn’t diagnostics be integrated with speech rather than provided on bitty screens hard to read for everybody? How about making screens the add-on features with audio as the main output channel?


Let’s generalize here and suggest the need for a simple training module to help people with recent vision loss get accustomed to working keypads accompanied by synthetic speech. Who could offer such training? I asked around at the CSUN exhibits and haven’t yet found an answer. There are multiple stages here, like producing a book and then distributing to end users via libraries or rehab services. My experience is that social services are hard enough to find and often more available to people who have already suspended independent activities.


The outreach problem is real. Finally, I’d like to express my appreciation to the activists, educators, and lawyers who convinced banking organizations and continue to work on retailers to make my “money moments” conventional and un stressful. The “talking ATM” shows what is possible not only for business but also for the broader opportunities sketched out above. Let all devices talk, I wish.

References on Talking ATMs

  1. Background and excellent overview compiled by Disability Civil Rights Attorney Lainey Feingold>

  2. Blind Cool Tech demos of talking devices

  3. Talking ATM on wikipedia

  4. Swedish choice of Acapella voices for ATMs for more modern sounding speech. Demos available on website.


  5. Chase bank and Access Technologies ATM collaboration


  6. (PDF) 2003 case study of Talking ATM upgrades
    . Bundled features with speech included better encryption and streamlined statement viewing.


  7. The electronic ‘curb cuts’ effect
    by Steve Jacobs


  8. Portfolio of talking information
    based on ATT technology

  9. ‘What to do when you meet a sighted person’ (parody)

Honoree for Ada Lovelace Day — Pat Price for AccessibleWorld.org

The Accessible World Community

Ada Lovelace Day resulted from a petition to recognize women’s role in technology. The woman I am recognizing was not strictly a technologist but rather a businesswoman in the insurance industry. I did not know her but have often used a web-based community she founded for learning about technology, sharing ideas and books, and fostering nonprofit as well as commercial projects through an outlet for recorded chat sessions and tutorials. The arena of service is the broad range of visually impaired people, multi-generational but especially supportive of older folks. She herself was mostly blind, with some periods of vision where technology could help, also dealing with deafness and crippling deterioration.


As my own vision was leading me to adopt more audio support, I repeatedly found myself wandering around Accessible World.org. My beloved Levelstar Icon Mobility Manager was discussed in tutorials and online user group sessions. A steady stream of low vision products and tutorials were referred to in mailing lists leading me to drop into the archives. Friends of Bookshare.org knit together veteran volunteers and book lovers into book groups I occasionally visited to complement my own local clubs. I was inspired to hear the pleasure of communicating impressions about plots and characters, knowing that these book lovers were reading from Braille and audio devices as fluently as from print.

The Visionary behind Accessible World


This lady, Pat Price, of Indianapolis Indiana died Feb. 1, 2009, with Memorial from Friends of Pat Price, conducted using the Accessible World and Talking Communities web communication. One memorable testimony described her as “outrageously productive”, not only at age 80 but throughout her life, quietly organizing people from disparate realms of life to address problems of the visually impaired.

Lessons for technologists from Accessible World


What can technologists learn about the roles of women? First is that technology really, really matters to disabled people, allowing us to roam the world in contact with others, often nearly housebound after active professional lives. Second, the web is so stupendously cost-effective that a few individuals as webmaster, tech support, event coordinator, and publishers can form a tight-knit community where newcomers can learn about both culture and opportunities. Third, a woman could lead this contribution without being a technologist herself but rather providing the vision, energy, spirit, wisdom, and patience to lead others with the necessary technical skills. For me, Accessible World was a wonderful source of insight into a cross-section of the blindness world as technology progressed within and around it.

Conversely, there’s a sense of admonition and embarrassment I feel as a technologist myself. since web sites mean so very much to the visually impaired, it is supremely callous and unprofessional of those web sites that fail us. Indeed, it is even up to the level of cruelty when considering the extra pain , yes, pain, imposed upon tired hands forced around a keyboard until finding the search box or heading outline that provides equal access to the page’s purpose. It is dispiriting to fail when a web service like Blog Talk Radio builds around an inaccessible chat client rather than one such as Talking Communities used by Accessible World. And then I lose respect for podcasters who choose services without regard to accessibility. In the ideal world, there would not be a separate Accessible world ignored by those technologists not yet disabled or accepting of their roles as care-givers or respective of social justice. Sadly, that ideal world is easily within reach if only we began to hold our own professional organizations to higher standards of universal design as a goal and minimal usability as requirements for all software, gadgets, and web sites.

More about Ada Lovelace

  1. Wikipedia on Ada Lovelace
  2. Ada Lovelace as a mathematician
    Ada Byronb Lovelace in garb of her time

  3. The first programmer, Ada Lovelace

Thinking about Blindness, Risks, and Safety Trade-offs

Facing safety trade-offs through risk management


It’s time to structure my wanderings and face denial about the special problems of dangers of living with partial eyesight. This post starts a simple framework for analyzing risks and defining responses. Sighted readers may become aware of hassles and barriers presented to Vision Losers who may learn a few tricks from my experience.


Life is looking especially risky right now: financial follies, pirate attacks, natural disasters, ordinary independent activities, … A Vision Loser needs special precautions, planning, and constant vigilance. So, here I go trying to assemble needed information in a format I can use without freaking myself back into a stupor of denial.

Guiding Lesson: Look for the simplest rule that covers the most situations.

Appeals to experts and clever web searches usually bring good information, lots of it, way more than I can use. I discussed this predicament in the context of Literacy when I realized I couldn’t read the pie charts sufficiently well to understand asset allocations. I had 500 simulations from my “wealth manager”, projections to age 95, and my own risk profiles. But what I needed was a simple rule to live by, that fit these, now absurd, models, like

“Live annually on 4% of your assets”.

Another rule, one I obey, that could have saved $trillions is like:

Housing payment not to exceed 1/3 Income.

Such rules help focus on the important trade-offs of what we can and cannot do sensibly rather than get bogged down in complex models and data we can’t fully understand or properly control. If we can abstract an effective rule from a mass of details, then we might be able to refresh the rule from time to time to ask what changes in the details materially affect the rule and what adjustments can cover these changes. We can also use generally accepted rules to validate and simplify our models. This is especially important for the partially sighted since extra work goes into interpreting what can be seen and considerable guess work into what’s out there unseen.


I need comparable safety rules to internalize, realizing their exceptions and uncertainty. Old rules don’t work too well, like “Look both ways before crossing the street”. also listen, but what about silent cars. Or “turn on CNN for weather information” if I can’t read the scrolling banners.

Background from Software risk management


When I taught software engineering, the sections on project management always emphasized the need for Risk Management in the context of “why 90% of software projects fail”. This subject matter made the basis for a good teamwork lab exercise: prioritize the risks for a start up project. I dubbed this hypothetical project Pizza Central, a web site to compare local pizza deals and place orders, with forums for pizza lovers. Since all students are domain experts on both pizza deliveries and web site use, they could rapidly fill out a given template. Comparing results always found a wide divergence of risks among teams, some focused on website outage, others on interfaces, some on software platforms. So, one lesson conveyed among teams was “oops, we forgot about that”. My take-away for them was that this valuable exercise was easy enough to do but required assigned responsibilities for mitigating risks, tracking risk indicators, and sometimes unthinkable actions, like project cancellation.


I am about to try a bit of this medicine on myself now. Risk is a complicated subject, see Wikipedia. I’ll use the term as “occurrence of a harmful event” in the context of a project or activity. The goal is to mitigate both the occurrences and effects of these nasty events. But we also need indicators to tell when an event is ongoing or has happened. Since mitigation has a cost of response both to prevent and recover from events, it helps to have prioritization of events by likelihood and severity. So, envision a spreadsheet with event names, ratings for likelihood, severity, and costs, perhaps with a formula to rank importance. Associated with these events are lists of indicators, proposed mitigation actions with estimated costs. This table becomes part of a project plan with assigned actions for mitigations and risk tracking awareness across team members as a regular agenda item at project meetings..

Risk analysis for my workout/relaxation walk


I will follow this through on the example of my daily workout walk. I do not use my white cane because I feel safe enough, but really, is this a good tradeoff? Without the cane, I can walk briskly, arms swinging, enjoying shadows, tree outlines, and the calls of quail in the brush. The long white cane pushes my attention into the pavement, responding to minor bumps and cracks my strides ignore, and there’s even a rhythm to the pavement that adjusts my pace to a safe sensation. I would not think of walking without my guiding long white cane on a street crowded with consumers or tourists but this walk covers familiar terrain at a time frequented by other recreational walkers. This situation is a trade-off unique to the partially sighted, who only themselves can know what they can safely see and do, living with the inevitable mistakes and mishaps of the physical world.

Here are a few events, with occasional ratings on a 1-10 scale. For this application, I feel it’s more important to ask the right questions, albeit some silly, to surface my underlying concerns and motivate actions.

  1. Event: Struck by lightning, falling tree, or other bad weather hazard

    <Indicators<:Strong winds, thunder, glare ice

    <likelihood<: 8, with walks during

    <Severity<: 9, people do get whacked

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

    • -7, look for dark clouds. but Can’t see well enough in all directions over mountains
    • 0, Listen for distant thunder, also golf course warning sirens
    • -1, check CNN and weather channels, but hard to find channel with low accessibility remote and cable box, also reading banners and warning screens not always announced. FIND RELIABLE, USABLE WEATHER CHANNEL, ADD TO FAVORITES
    • Ditto for Internet weather information, but I never am sure I am on a reliable up-to-date website or stream, especially if ad supported
    • Ditto for Radio, using emergency receiver. ACTION: set up and learn to use.
    • For ice patches, choose most level route, beware of ice near bushes where sunlight doesn’t reach for days after a storm, walk and observe during afternoon melting rather than before dusk freezing

    Summary: I should keep emergency radio out and tuned to a station. ACTION needed for other threats than weather, also.

  2. Event: Trip over something

    <Indicators<: Stumbling, breaking stride, wary passers-by

    <likelihood<: 5,

    <Severity<: 6

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

    • 0, Follow well-defined, familiar route with smooth pavements, rounded curbs – I DO THIS!
    • Never take a short cut or unpaved path.
    • $100, wear SAS walking shoes with Velcro tabs, NO SHOE LACES to trip over
    • 0, detour around walkers with known or suspected pets on leashes, also with running kids or strollers.
    • 0, take deliberate steps up and down curbs, use curb cuts where available. Remember that gutters below curbs often slope or are uneven. Don’t be sensitive that people are watching you “fondle the curb”.
    • Detour around construction sites, gravel deliveries, … Extra caution on big item trash pickup days when items might protrude from trash at body or head level.
    • Detour around bushes growing out over sidewalks, avoiding bush runners, also snakes (yikes)

    Summary: I feel safe from tripping now that I have eliminated shoe laces and learned, the hard way, not to take curbs for granted.

  3. Event: Hit by some vehicle

    <Indicators<: Movement, perhaps in peripheral vision; noise

    <likelihood<: 5

    <Severity<: 7

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

    • 0, stay on sidewalks, if not overgrown by brush
    • 1, walk when others are out and about, expecting auto and bicycle drivers to be aware
    • find a safe, regular road crossing, away from an irregular intersection, and jay walk. Is this wise?
    • Do not walk at times of day when sun may blind drivers, e.g. winter days when sunsets are long and low
    • Do not trust ears. Bicycles are quiet on smooth pavements, move rapidly down hill. Also hybrid cars may run silently.
    • Halt completely when in the vicinity of noisy delivery trucks or car radios. Blending hearing and seeing requires both be at maximum capacity.
    • Remember that eerie white cross memorial indicating a dangerous intersection with cars coming around a blind curve and often running stop sign. Also shout at speeders and careless drivers.
    • REJECTED: Use white cane to warn others I’m limited at seeing them. I don’t think the white cane adds more warning than my active body motion.

    Summary: I am currently using 3 safe routes, must not let mind wander at each intersection and crossing. ACTION: sign a petition for noise indicators on silent motors.

  4. Event: Getting lost

    <Indicators<Unfamiliar houses, pavements, in intersections

    <likelihood< 1,

    <Severity<: 1

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

    • Follow same routes through established neighborhoods
    • $1000, get GPS units and training. Consider when I move and need to define new walking routes.
    • Beware or boredom to tempt alternate routes.

    Summary: I used to get lost, turned around in neighborhoods, no longer take those excursions. 3 regular walking paths will do.

  5. Event: Cardiac attack

    <Indicators<: frequent stops, pain, heavy breathing

    <likelihood<: Hey, that’s why I do these walks, to build breathing stamina at an altitude of 5000 ft with several serious up and down hill stretches.

    <Severity<: Something’s gonna get me, hope it’s quick.

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

    • Exercise regularly to maintain condition.
    • Checkup when Medicare allows and physicians are available (thanks U.S. health care system)

    Summary: Not to worry as long as walks feel good.

Risk Management Summary

I choose this walk as my primary exercise activity, have integrated it into my daily routine, and generally feel better as well as safe. Eliminating shoe laces removed a major stupid cause of minor stumbling and potential falls. I have avoided unsafe and confusing trajectories. My main fears are: Fedex or UPS delivery trucks, fast downhill bikes, pet greetings, loose children, persistent brush-hidden ice patches. My cane would, in this environment, change attention from moving objects toward pavement which is smooth and uncluttered. The cane would do little to warn off threats — they either notice me or not. I choose to balance my partial sight used cautiously with improving listening skills and opt to walk faster and more comfortably without the leading cane and its frequent catches in cracks and grass.

Actions: While walking may not be the main reasons, I must gear up with that emergency radio for other threats. More generally, I must learn about emergency information sources that fit my vision capabilities.

References on Risks

  1. Wikipedia on Risk
  2. How to for risk management
  3. Risks to the public using software, decades of examples of software-related events and management as risks
  4. ‘Nothing is as Simple’ blog, a phrase to remember and examples
  5. Previous post on Literacy and reading charts, how I discovered I couldn’t read pie chart data
  6. Previous Post ‘Grabbing my Identity Cane to Join the Culture of Disability’. I have now progressed through orientation and mobility training to using a longer cane with a rolling tip.
  7. Emergency preparedness checklists for Vision Losers — TBD

Using The ‘curb cuts’ Principle to reboot computing

The ‘curb cuts’ principle

curb cuts for wheelchairs also guide blind persons into street crossings and prevent accidents for baby strollers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and inattentive walkers. The “curb cuts” principle is that removing a barrier for persons with disabilities improves the situation for everybody. This hypothesis suggests erasing the line that labels some technologies as assistive and certain practices as accessibility to maximize the benefits for future users of all computer-enabled devices. This paradigm requires a new theory of design that recognizes accessibility flaws as unexplored areas of the design space, potential harbingers of complexity and quality loss, plus opportunities for innovation in architectures and interfaces. Besides the general acceptance of computing curb cuts as a social good at an acceptable price, the traditional computing culture will benefit from a dose of understanding of the technology communities, institutions and visionaries that drive a vibrant world of persons who overcome disabilities.

cross walk by curb cut to assist wheelchair


Background:

As I lost vision due to myopic degeneration, My computer use modes switched to audio. I was swept into a world of rich information resources and innovative mobile devices that rejuvenated my personal interests in computing. Learning to use assistive technology while studying the practices of accessibility motivated me to write my personal experiences in the “As Your world changes” blog. I seek to create a framework of concepts that integrate the lessons and techniques of what is customarily considered deficient abilities into the mainstream of computing for the betterment of all based on the “curb cuts” principle. The physical world ‘curb cut’ analogy flows over into computing in the following ways.

1. End Users benefit from alternative and new uses of computing.


So-called assistive technologies today expand the way computers are used in an essential sense, incidently overcoming some human deficiencies. Better designed ways of using only a keyboard without a mouse offers power shortcuts to everybody. Consistent displays in high contrast modes offer more relaxing viewing that cut the glare that causes natural photosensitivity and mental stress across a wide range of eyesight conditions. Text to speech from screen readers offers eyes-free reading of long web pages for audio adapted multi-tasking individuals while also providing GUI interactions for the visually impaired. Digital talking books and newspapers will eventually be available commodities for sighted readers as they have been for years to qualified print-disabled individuals.


Because there is now an artificial line that views such technologies ass assistive rather than normal options, products are designed for or against certain users. Emphasis on the GUI has restricted advances in speech-enabled applications with the potential for many new innovations and wider markets. Studies on the plasticity of the brain suggest that more satisfying and productive use of computers flows from integration of visual, audio, and tactile modes of processing information.


Erasing the artificial lines and labels of assistive as separate and remedial technology offers a chance to revitalize the visual dominated modes of computing that no longer apply within a marketplace of diverse hardware and software components. Integration of so-called assistive technologies and accessibility practices will show the flaws of products developed only for an assumed fully enabled user.

2. Accessibility concerns lead into productive unexplored design regions.


Accessibility and usability are well defined if underused principles of product quality. The ‘curb cuts’ principle suggests that a defect with respect to these qualities is in a poorly understood or unexplored area of a design. Often a problem that presents only a little trouble for the expected “normal” user is a major hassle or show stopper for those with certain physical or cognitive deficiencies. However, those flaws compound and often invisibly reduce productivity for all users. Increasingly, these deficiencies arise from ambient environmental conditions such as glare, noise, and potential damage to users or devices.


Moreover, these problems may also indicate major flaws related to the integrity of a design and long term maintainability of the product. An example is the omission of Headings on an HTML page that makes it difficult to find content and navigation divisions with a screen reader. This flaw usually reveals an underlying lack of clarity about the purpose and structure of the website and page. Complexity and difficult usability often arise from missing and muddled use cases. Attitudes opposing checklist standards often lead to perpetuating poor practices such as the silly link label “click here”.


The ‘curb cuts’ principle leads toward a theory of design that requires remedy of accessibility problems not as a kindness to users nor to meet a governmental regulation but rather to force exploration through difficult or novel parts of the design terrain. The paradigm of “universal design” demands attention to principles that should influence requirements, choice of technical frameworks, and attention to different aesthetics and other qualities. For example, design principles may address where responsibilities lie for speech information to a user, thus questioning whether alternative architectures should be considered. Applying this principle early and thoroughly potentially removes many warts of the product that now require clumsy and expensive accessibility grafts or do-overs.


Just as the design patterns movement grew from the architectural interests of Christopher Alexander, attention to universal design should help mature the fields for software and hardware. The “curb cuts” principle motivates designers to think beyond the trim looking curb to consider the functionality to really serve and attract ever more populations of end users.

3. The social value of curb cuts ennobles computing.


Computer professionals are often shocked when they see how difficult their products are to use, reaching levels of excruciating pain for persons with disabilities. Professional pride is a motivating factor for many individuals attracted to the computing field, e.g. women and games that truly enhance their views of human potential and relationships.


The market motive is obvious with many millions of persons with disabilities to be included in the mainstream rather than being totally excluded or segregated into the higher priced rehabilitation industrial complex. Especially as the U.S. population ages, the social services are simply not there to smooth their transition and maintain their purchasing influence. Services of all kinds work more efficiently with fewer exceptions due to individuals requiring special processing.


There are so many genuinely innovative products designed by the blind, e.g. a screenless Linux PDA that rivals the Kindle with book, news, and RSS access and reading. An international open source project driven by energetic Australians is producing a free screen reader for global use with synthetic voices in dozens of languages. A standard camera-phone can now read menus and transactions items, even currency. A $5 audio device is being designed to bridge the literacy gap in impoverished societies. some people are also drawn into a futuristic world of open source hardware for designing gadgets that will speak what they are doing, how to use them, and their location, orientation, and other physical properties.


for many The social good of enabling equal access to computing is an attractor to a field renowned for nerds and greed. Social entrepreneurs offer an expansive sense of opening doors to not only education and entertainment but also employment, that now stands around 20% for disabled persons. Many innovative nonprofit organizations take advantage of copyright exemptions building libraries and technology aids for alternatives to print and traditional reading.


The computing curb cuts principle can motivate professionals, services, and end users to achieve the potential beauty and magic of computing in everyday life, globally, and for everybody who will eventually make the transition into some form of sensory, motor, or mental deficiency. But, first, mainstream computing must open its knowledge and career paths to encompass the visionaries and advances now segregated. All too often persons with disabilities are more advanced, diversified, and skill full in ways that could benefit not yet disabled people.


The “curb cuts” metaphor offers a compelling and, well, concrete way of motivating new attitudes toward computing. Walk down any American street and the reminders are at each intersection. Every computer professional will be on the hook to deliver universally usable products, not wait three years as happened with iTunes and only under legal threats, as may come soon with Google’s Chrome and Google Book Search or the Amazon and Target websites. Failing to universally design a computing product is as much a social menace as a missing or poorly designed concrete curb. The computing curb cut provides a metaphor to tell the public about new ways for improving their lives and the value of innovations that will follow from obliterating the artificial border with accessibility.

<img src=”http://www.ada.gov/images/flaredramp1.jpg&#8221; ALT=”curb cut schematic from ADA.gov”

Notes and References on the ‘Curb Cuts’ principle

  1. ‘Universal Design’ paradigm (from Wikipedia) integrates concepts from physical, architectural, and information design. Detailed principles (from NCSU design center) include equitable use, flexibility, simplicity, intuitiveness, tolerance for error, low physical effort,… A chronology of inventions for electronic curb cuts illustrates how hearing, seeing, and learning disabilities have influenced the modern communications world. Universal design as a business principle (from Lowes corporation) brings the principles into everyday life.
  2. The ‘curb cut’ symbolism is widely used in the accessibility world, e.g. ‘curbcuts.net’, an accessibility consultancy . The site kindly provides a guide to concrete curb cuts . Background on accessibility in the context of “curb cuts” covers the essential role of considering the full range of human abilities in design. Analysis of the “curb cut” metaphor in computing suggests many problems in its usage.
  3. ‘curb cuts’ are technically complex as described in the A.D.A. guidelines on curb ramps .
  4. Mark Guzdial’s blog on principles of computing introduces many of the issues of professional soul searching and educational concerns that motivate the “rebooting computing” movement lead by NPS Professor Peter Denning Beneblog from Benetech.org on ‘Technology meets Society’ illustrates non-profit effectiveness and innovation..
  5. Innovative assistive tools for visually impaired users include:
  6. Use the Controversy Discovery Engine to search for articles on accessibility and usability. Use terms like “curb cut” then choose controversy synonyms and forms of support to drill down into the Analytic Web.

Literacy Lost and Found: Keystrokes, Pie charts, and Einstein

September is Literacy month

September is a reminder month for topics that challenge a Vision Loser. September 8 was International Literacy day and the 26 begins Banned books week. This post describes a technology project that forced me to think about how impoverished, illiterate people survive, and a creative low cost way to help them. I also face a personal decline in literacy without a replacement for reading pie charts. I chastise myself for accepting a sloppy literacy in the language of keyboards, menus, and application interface tasks. I Try to overcome vision limitations by seeking simple, powerful, memorable formulas using numeracy to conquer reading limitations. One of those formula leads me to an example of dubious information literacy, a quotation by Einstein. In passing, I pick up a new term ‘trans-literacy’ to describe the phenomena of literacy across media, including Braille. And, without getting too political, my book club discussions help me nail down some fundamental questions of belief systems that counter banning premises.

Literacy in a broad sense



To me, literacy is the ability to do information processing actions and processes without thinking about them so you can accomplish the tasks that require hard analysis to function in society. Literacy processes external to mental representations for the brain to store and reason about. Writing is the inverse process. Fluency is the ability to perform the basic skills sufficiently rapidly, effectively, and accurately to sustain everyday life on the highest, hardest level possible. The challenge for a Vision Loser is to reclaim one way or another those basic skills as they deteriorate.


Here’s an example of vision literacy issues. If I cannot find the line to sign a receipt for a prescription, that is simply a vision deficiency that requires trust of the pharmacy that I am signing appropriately. I could overcome this deficiency using the KNFB reader but it’s not worth the effort. I have the literacy to find the charge entry on the bank system website If a correction is required. the phone number should be associated with the transaction for Kmart pharmacy but I may have trouble finding the local number. these are all variations of the problems of getting the symbols from a jumble of data into my brain, requiring hard work but doable. A different form of literacy occurs at the end of the year when the credit card company sends me a summary of cumulative transactions. Perhaps tabularized or represented in charts. I no longer have the ability to drill down or read out from a pie chart to find the percentage for annual medical costs. This complicates my planning for retirement expense estimation. Literacy has been lost, I hope only temporarily. I can only translate those external symbols into a mental representation by mastering intermediate technologies, e.g. transforming printed characters into sounds through synthetic speech.

Combating fundamental illiteracy through digital talking

Let’s consider the extreme of people with no capability to read or write informational items beneficial to their daily life in any printed media. Is their only hope of progress learning to handle some print form? A recent ITConversations podcast by cliff Schmidt of LiteracyBridge.org posits that a low-cost audio player/recorder can go a long way toward improving access to the necessities of life without requiring literacy as we know it. The prototyped audio device will be used to exchange oral information, e.g. treating infant malnutrition. His project role model is the One Laptop Per child project willingness to focus on qualities of cost, limited functionality, and durability traded off against style and attractiveness and universal purpose. I was intrigued with the simple onboard USB connections among devices following simple physical models of transfer rather than invisible Bluetooth protocols. After stumbling onto some accessibility trouble spots, I inquired about the talking book project’s philosophy on accessibility. Schmidt replied:

Absolutely no vision is required to use the Talking Book Device. From the beginning, we’ve wanted the device to work without the need for vision. There’s no display — all system indicators and prompts are aurally. The buttons are embossed. The device has non-visual indicator, a green and red LED, but that indicator is redundant the aural information.

Whoopee! My accessibility dreams come forth. Like how my late father enjoyed the boxes of remainder books I brought him, as well as his requests, in his assisted living location. Imagine a device that could be rapidly refilled with human or synthetic spoken books from a kiosk or a peer device in the hallway. The might have encouraged more book clubbing among readers with vast life experience. And I’ll bet he would have been multitasking book reading, recording, TV watching, memoir writing, and I hate to think what else. Conquering file transfer problems and exploiting digital content would have meant so much a decade ago, even more to baby boomers and beyond comfortable in the audio realm but limited in sensory apparatus. I wonder also if convincing cost breakthroughs in self-voiced devices can help alleviate some health care costs.


The LiteraryBridge web site accessibility problems are due to ISP provided templates that also trapped me once into painfully scraping excess HTML off my own web content. But the message is well amplified by recent news articles and podcasts. I even made it all the way through checkout on the donation form, which often lead me to cursing the insensitive form makers. I found a wonderful picture of illiteracy and poverty that might soon be changed by well designed low cost digital equipment, combined with localized information networks, supported by donations and volunteer effort. Watch this social entrepreneurial story unfold.

Literacy lost for pie charts

Now, here’s my latest vision challenge. My retirement adviser from TIAA CREF sent me pages of tables of fund data and asset allocations, along with those nice curves that show how much you will have to live on at age 95. OMG, 95, 3 decades away! Now, I can get read out each line of the table with fund name, percents, and changes of allocations. I Can see on the screen fuzzy pies with a chunk removed, but I cannot absorb the information the way I did previously.


This got me thinking how reading charts is a form of literacy, often called numeracy, or quantitative literacy. I’ve see these charts in middle school textbooks but I suspect many adults are chart illiterate. Not me. Having programmed with a chart tools and hyperlinks I understand well how raw data can be converted into alternative graphic forms to facilitate rapid assimilation of relative values in a data set. In a hypertext world, those charts can drive navigation to web data linked via image maps. But now I can neither visually process the chart down to the labels and numeric values nor infer a mental representation of the data in the table. I am going to be very grumpy at age 90 in 2033 if I run out of money and suspect I chose the wrong asset allocation.


There are alternatives to tabular and graphic printed formats. Tactile maps can be created but these require external devices and reading abilities comparable to Braille. I am currently Braille illiterate, a symbol system and sensory skills usually not offered to or self-learned by retired Vision Losers.
Another option is software like Chart Explainer that creates textual representations from data sets and chart presentations.


A third possibility I would favor but have not found is a way to interact by audio and keyboard with the basic data set. Just as an audio player supports short steps, longer jumps and extreme moves forward and backward, I would like to use my arrow keys to explore data arranged in bar, pie, or other chart format I remember so well. Comparison data could be announced using other keys. In a few minutes, with the small number of data items in this situation, I believe I could absorb the content sufficient to decide whether I like the allocation. For example, I think I would have a gut reaction to finding abnormally large real estate funds or negligible international fund allocations. More so than struggling to magnify pie slices or hear jumbled numbers across a row, the effect of finger actions and controlling of interactions would absorb and stimulate my brain to formulate its own model of the data. Whether that model was accurate is another matter.


Are there versions of Excel or other quantitative tools that support non-visual interaction? I’d really like to try these out. I certainly expect a Java or DOJO widget could provide me the combination of interaction and audio information. I wonder if sighted people might also benefit by bringing together their tactile, auditory, visual reasoning capabilities rather than staring at non-interactive charts.


As I become a more experienced Vision Loser, seeking always independence, I become more frustrated with current word processing. Let’s see, analysts generate boilerplate and formulas for allocations, produce 30 page documents, print and bind these, send them to me, and I scan them using Kurzweil 1000. data about my very own money and these analysts’ projections are all too much imprisoned in documents. Using PDF is not much better than printed documents unless attention is paid to propagating data sets through tags rather than pixels..

Literacy at the keystroke level

Yet another form of literacy, so dubbed by Canadian accessibility adviser Karen McCall. Whether using magnifier, screen reader, or more traditional software like word processors and operating systems, the Vision Loser needs to get into her brain a number of key combinations, modifier rules, etc. Some of these are shortcuts around menus, others are power starters, and some are survival remedies. Life gets very complicated keeping straight the standard access keys, those of applications, and the overlay of screen Rieder functions. At this point I am semi-literate, often lapsing back to menu and mousing around when I forget or have not learned the necessary keys. were I trained in a Veteran or ADA keyboarding class, I would have been drilled and tested to know this stuff. Note to self: diagnose gaps, lay out a practice plan, and drill my way to proficiency. Yechy but will save hours later on and help me accomplish higher level tasks. Here I simply have not yet learned the rules for reading tables as well as making them accessible to screen readers.

Compressing literacy into memorable formulae

Back to numeracy, there are a few simple formula that govern much of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Compound interest, for example, is the basis for my ability to retire modestly without too much stress when I could no longer seek another job after vision loss. It’s truly amazing how much growth comes from those employer and employee plans over a few decades. I try to convince all youngsters I encounter to put away that $1000 or $100 as early as they can in life, and never touch the funds. Compound interest at different rates as shown in a simple calculator, ignoring inflation, is really impressive. Another formula often useful is the monotonic increase e.g. 1+2+…n which is n*(n+1)/2. Isn’t that neat? $100 increased by $100 each yields $21,000 after 20 years and that’s without compound interest. Learning the potential payoffs of some discipline, which every one hopes to get painlessly, is my legacy goal. If only we all understood how much it will cost to pay off, say $20 million debt using village funds, or $trillion for national debts…


Applying to retirement planning, for all the analysis and allocation mumbo-jumbo, what I really need to know is some rule that I can withdraw something like 5% of net worth, adjusted quarterly, and live to that awful age of 95. Also can I assume that the models such as 1/3 invested in annuities is an all around good bet based on last 50 years and a dose of reasoning.

Did Einstein really admire compound interest?

Then there’s informational literacy. I found a neat example from compound interest motivation. I had read, indeed quoted, in a discrete math lecture on recurrence that Einstein considered compound interest one of the greatest wonders of the world. either he had a really good investment strategy or just liked discrete math as well as physics, whatever, actually nobody seems to have nailed down that quote to a time and place and context. Maybe he said it, maybe not, still makes a good story. but it takes a bit of Google probing to get to a page of doubters rather than the useful flip quoters. Try out the controversy discovery engine to give you alternative profiles of whatever you’re looking for, especially if you think you’re going to live to age 95 on what you learn. Literacy in this case refers not only to looking up information but knowing how to choose materials, assess their quality, and fact check each information nugget.

Literacy expanded to ‘trans-literacy’

So, here’s a new term ‘trans-literacy’, I encountered on the reading in the dark blog. I think it involves comparative ways of operating using basic literacy skill but across different communication media as we have in abundance in our Internet, RSS, culture. does this encompass the reading problems discussed so often this summer, as in my Hyperlinks considered Harmful posting? I feel myself privileged that my brain is not only aging rather gracefully but also exhibiting its plasticity in transferring my reading practice from visual to audio. I’ll soon be ready to take on the next reading mode, the tactile and symbol system of Braille. Partly, I seek these skills because I am now illiterate in the labeling and data entry modes provided in technology for the educated blind. I also admire hearing books read or talks given from notes recorded in Braille. And then there’s always that worry about loss of hearing.

Anti-literacy by banning

Finally, to end this eclectic rambling, why are books ‘challenged’ in libraries and schools? reasons may be given honestly and correctly such as readiness as deemed by educators or parents. or this may be an excuse to prevent National geographic magazines infiltrating elementary schools with pictures of naked women in other cultures. this might mean parents are not ready to explain nakedness to their children or just don’t want to. For my book club, I reported on the youth-oriented story ‘a wrinkle in time’ by Madeleine L’engle, an introduction to time and space travel that brought out the strengths of teenage and young children in a context of strong family values. However, some characters were, over 2 billion years old and strongly powerful women, i.e. witch-like. A reference placed a biblical character in a lineup of other significant figures on earth fighting the evil that was more of a shadow archetype than a force comparable to most demonic figures. I just couldn’t believe such a positive, intriguing story, even including a planet of blind creatures, could be challenge by parents over the decades.


This brings me back to those simple formulae that provide guidance. I ask my youngsters, if you were born in the, say, 75% of the world that holds different beliefs, e.g. in the Middle east rather than America, would you be able to explain and justify their belief system? Wouldn’t your current beliefs differ by culture you are born into? consider the institutional structures encompassing those belief system, if you questioned, say 10% of those beliefs, could you remain in good standing in the institution? It’s wonderful that the Banned Book Week tradition raises these questions each year and that book clubs, like ours for AAUW members, reinforce the discussion and that my favorite library Bookshare even seeks out banned books for Vision Losers to read.

References on Literacy

  1. UNESCO International Literacy Day
  2. American Library Association Banned Book Week Celebrating the freedom to read
  3. Literacy Bridge.org Talking Book Project, the $5 Ipod
  4. Literacy Bridge Talking Device interview by Cliff Schmidt podcast on itConversations
  5. Tactile Graphics
  6. Chart Explainer
  7. Essay on Numeracy
  8. Braille Introduction
  9. Karen McCall’s Check lists of Assistive Technology Literacy
  10. TIAA CREF Financial Planning tools
  11. Veracity of the Einstein quote on compound interest as a wonder of the world
  12. Controversy Discovery Engine for more analytic Google queries
  13. Wikipedia description of ‘transliteracy’ objectives
  14. Reading in the Dark blog on literacy topics, September 9 2008
  15. Previous post on ‘Hyperlinks Considered Harmful’ reading difficulties
  16. ‘A Wrinkkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle, frequently challenged book
  17. Audio version of this post