Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Julie Woodman aka “Granny J” at Walking Prescott blog
Julie and her blog were genuine treasures for the Prescott community. She inspired other bloggers to seek honesty, humor, and beauty in our writing. We all aspire to her level of blogging for ourselves and others.
And here is her post on Bloggery 101 Social Media Class which helped us learn her blogging philosophy. Now, don’t let anybody tell you blogging isn’t for people of all ages!
The field of software engineering made notable strides in the 1990s when the Department of Defense promulgated via its contracting operations a Capability Maturity Model supported by a Software Engineering Center (*SEI) at Carnegie-Mellon University. Arguably, the model and resulting forces were more belief-based than experimentally validated, but “process improvement through measurement” became a motivating mantra. For more detail see the over-edited Wikipedia article on CMM.
This post is aimed at accessibility researchers and at managers and developers of products with an accessibility requirement, explicitly or not. Visually impaired readers of this post may find some ammunition for accessibility complaints and for advice to organizations they work with.
The 5 Levels of Maturity Model
Here are my interpretations of the 5 levels of capability maturity focused on web accessibility features:
Chaotic, Undefined. Level 1
Each web designer followed his or her own criteria for good web pages, with no specific institutional target for accessibility. Some designers may know W3C standards or equivalents but nothing requires the designers to use them.
Repeatable but still undefined Level 2
Individual web designers can. through personal and group experience, estimate page size, say in units of HTML elements and attributes. Estimation enables better pricing against requirements. Some quality control is in place, e.g. using validation tools, maybe user trials, but the final verdict on suitability of web sites for clients rests in judgements of individual designers. Should those designers leave the organization, their replacements have primarily prior products but not necessarily any documented experience to repeat the process or achieve comparable quality.
Defined Level 3
Here, the organization owns the process which is codified and used for measurement of both project management and product quality. For example, a wire frame or design tool might be not a designer option but rather a process requirement subject to peer review. Standards such as W3c might be applied but are not as significant for capability maturity as that SOME process is defined and followed.
Managed Level 4
At this level, each project can be measured for both errors in product and process with the goal of improvement. Bug reports and accessibility complaints should lead to identifiable process failures and then changes.
Optimizing Level 5
Beyond Managed Level 4, processes can be optimized for new tools and techniques using measurements and data rather than guesswork. For example, is “progressive enhancement” an improvement or not?” can be analytically framed in terms of bug reports, customer complaints, developer capabilities, product lines expansion, and many other qualities.
How well does CMM apply to accessibility?
Personally, I’m not at all convinced a CMM focus would matter in many environments, but still it’s a possible way to piggy back on a movement that has influenced many software industry thinkers and managers.
Do standards raise process quality?
It seems obvious to me that standards such as W3C raise awareness of product quality issues that force process definition and also provide education on meeting the standards. But is a well defined standard either necessary or sufficient for high quality processes?
An ALT tag standard requires some process point where ALT text is constructed and entered into HTML. A process with any measurement of product quality will involve flagging missing ALT texts which leads to process improvement because it’ is so patently silly to have required rework on such a simple task. Or are ALT tags really that simple? A higher level of awareness of how ALT tags integrate with remaining text and actually help visually impaired page users requires more sensitivity and care and review and user feedback. The advantage of standards is that accessibility and usability qualities can be measured in a research context with costs then amortized across organizations and transformed into education expenses. So, the process improvement doesn’t immediately or repeatably lead to true product quality, but does help as guidance.
Does CMM apply in really small organizations?
Many web development projects are contracted through small one-person or part-time groups. Any form of measurement represents significant overhead on getting the job done. For this, CMM spawned the Personal and Team Software Processes for educational and industrial improvements. Certainly professionals who produce highly accessible web sites have both acquired education and developed some form of personal discipline that involved monitoring quality and conscious improvement efforts.
Should CMM influence higher education?
On the other hand, embedded web development may inherit its parent organization quality and development processes, e.g. a library or IT division of a university. Since the abysmal level of accessibility across universities and professional organizations suggest lack of attention and enforcement of standards is a major problem. My recorded stumbling around Computer Science websites surfaced only one organization that applied standards I followed to navigate web pages effectively, namely, University of Texas, which has a history of accessibility efforts. Not surprisingly, an accessibility policy reinforced with education and advocacy and enforcement led small distributed departmental efforts to better results. Should by lawsuit or even education commitment to educational fairness for persons with disability suddenly change the law of the land, at least one institution stands out as a model of both product and process quality.
Organizations can define really awful processes
A great example of this observation is Unrepentant’s blog and letter to DoJ about PDF testimonies. Hours of high-minded social justice and business case talk was represented in PDF of plaint text on Congressional websites. Not only is PDF a pain for visually impaired people, no matter how much it applies accessibility techniques, the simple fact of requiring an application external to the browser, here Adobe Reader, is a detriment to using the website on many devices such as my Levelstar Icon or smart phones. My bet is that sure enough there’s a process on Congressional websites, gauged to minimize effort by exporting WORD docts into PDF and then a quick upload. The entire process is wrong-headed when actual user satisfaction is considered, e.g. how often are citizens with disabilities and deviant devices using or skipping reading valuable testimony and data? Indeed, WCAG standards hint, among many other items, that, surprise, web pages use HTML that readily renders strings of texts quite well for reading across a wide variety of devices, including assistive technology.
The message here is that a Level 3 process such as “export testimony docs as PDF” is detrimental to accessibility without feedback and measurement of actual end usage. The Unrepentant blogger claims only a few hours of work required for a new process producing HTML, which I gratefully read by listening on the device of my choice in a comfortable location and, best of all, without updating the damned Adobe reader.
Quality oriented organizations are often oblivious about accessibility
The CMM description in the URL at the start of this article is short and readable but misses the opportunity to include headings, an essential semantic markup technique. I had to arrow up and down this page to extract the various CMM levels rather than apply a heading navigation as in this blog post. Strictly speaking the article is accessible by screen reader but I wouldn’t hire the site’s web designer if accessibility were a requirement because there’s simply much more usability and universality well worth applying.
I have also bemoaned the poor accessibility of professional computing organization websites>. Until another generation of content management systems comes along, it’s unlikely to find improvement in these websites although a DoJ initiative could accelerate this effort.
CMM questions for managers, developers, educators, buyers, users
So, managers, are your web designers and organization at the capability level you desire?
How would you know?
- Just sample a few pages in WAVE validator from WebAim.org. Errors flagged by WebAim are worth asking web developers? do these errors matter? how did they occur? what should be changed or added to your process, if any? But not all errors are equally important, e.g. unlabelled forms may cause abandoned transactions and lost sales while missing ALT tags just indicate designer ignorance. And what if WAVE comes up clean? Now you need to validate the tool against your process to know if you’re measuring the right stuff. At the very least, every manager or design client has a automated feedback in seconds from tools like WAVE and a way to hold web developers accountable for widespread and easily correctable flaws.
- Ask for the defined policy. would an objective like W3C standards suffice? Well, that depends on costs within the organization’s process, including both production and training replacements.
- Check user surveys and bug reports. Do these correspond to the outputs of validation tools such as WebAim’s WAVE?
- Most important, check for an accessibility statement and assure you can live with its requirements and that they meet social and legal standards befitting your organizational goals.
Developers, are you comfortable with your process?
Level 1 is often called “ad hoc” or “chaotic” for a reason, a wake up call. For many people, a defined process seems constraining of design flexibility and geek freedom. For others, a process gets out of the way many sources of mistakes and interpersonal issues about ways of working. Something as trivial as a missing or stupid ALT tag hardly seems worthy of contention yet a process that respects accessibility must at some point have steps to insert, and review ALT text, requiring only seconds in simple cases and minutes if a graphic lacks purpose or context, with many more minutes if the process mis-step shows up only in a validator or user test. Obviously processes can have high payoffs or receive the scolding from bloggers like Unrepentant and me if the process has the wrong goal.
Buyers of services or products for web development, is CMM a cost component?
Here’s where high leverage can be attained or lost. Consider procuring a more modern content management system. Likely these vary in the extent to which they export accessible content, e.g. making it easier or harder to provide semantic page outlines using headings. There are also issues of accessibility of the CMS product functions to support developers with disabilities.
In the context of CMM, a buyer can ask the same questions as a manager about a contractor organizations’ process maturity graded against an agreed upon accessibility statement and quality assessment.
Users and advocates, does CMM help make your case?
If we find pages with headings much, much easier to navigate but a site we need to use lacks headings, it’s constructive to point out this flaw. It seems obvious that a web page with only an H4 doesn’t have much process behind its production, but is this an issue of process failure, developer education, or missing requirements? If, by any chance, feedback and complaints are actually read and tracked, a good manager would certainly ask about the quality of the organization’s process as well as that of its products.
Educators,does CMM thinking improve accessibility and usability for everyone?
Back to software engineering, getting to Level 5 was a BFD for many organizations, e.g. related to NASA or international competition with India enterprises. Software engineering curricula formed around CMM and government agencies used it to force training and organizational change. The SEI became a major force and software engineering textbooks had a focus for several chapters on project management and quality improvement. Frankly, as a former software engineering educator, I tended to skim this content to get to testing which I considered more interesting and concrete and relevant.
By the way, being sighted at the time, I didn’t notice the omission of accessibility as a requirement or standards body of knowledge. I have challenged Computing Education blogger and readers to include accessibility somewhere in courses, but given the combination of accreditation strictures and lack of faculty awareness, nothing is likely to happen. Unless, well, hey, enforcement just might change these attitudes. My major concern is that computing products will continue to be either in the “assistive technology ghetto” or costly overhauls because developers were never exposed to accessibility.
Looking for exemplars, good or bad?
Are there any organizations that function at level 5 for accessibility and how does that matter for their internal costs and for customer satisfaction as well as legal requirements?
Please comment if your organization has ever considered issues like CMM and where you consider yourself in a comparable level.
This post responds to concerns in ComputingEd post ‘Kindles versus Smart phones: Age matters, testing matters’. A UGa study and commentary focus on news reading as screen-dependant and vision-only. I suggest considering the print-disabled TTS-dependant ecosystem to expand understanding of human reading and assistive device capabilities.
Reading experiments might be broadened to include pure TTS, i.e. no screens. But first, what criteria matter: reading rate, absorption level; device comfort, simulated print experience, distribution costs and convenience,..?
For the record, I just read this article by RSS, then switched to my Newstand, downloaded NYTimes and other papers from Bookshare.org, cooperating with NFB Newsline, and news companies I gratefully thank. Papers are delivered wirelessly in XML-based DAISY format, retrieved and read on a Linux-powered mobile device (Levelstar Icon), spoken in an old-style “robotic voice”. For delivery efficiency and cost, this cannot be beat and I think I absorb selective news reading better than ever. But how is experience of print-disabled news readers factored into comparisons like this article?
This will soon be relevant if Kindle, iPod/iTouch, etc. TTS reading is fully enabled and adopted by some readers from proprietary delivery systems, like Amazon. For proper evaluation, it will be necessary to compare eReading by TTS on mainstream devices to that provided by evolved readers like APH book port, Humanware Victor Reader Stream, PlexTalk Pocket, Levelstar Icon, and (my favorite) GW Micro booksense. Also important is the media format, currently favored as DAISY on these devices. And finally is the provision of media, currently limited legally to print-disabled readers, as by NFB (National Federation of Blind) and non-profit Bookshare.org. In other words, there’s another ecosystem of reading open only to print-disabled that might benefit those attracted to eReading.
Oh, my, here’s the “universal design” mantra again. ‘Reading news by screen’ is, of course, more limited than ‘reading by print or audio”. It’s possible than for some reading criteria the screen-free mode or open XML-based format and its reading devices and experienced reader population may beat mainstream strategies!
Could these experiments be performed? Certainly, most universities have students who currently, or could, offer their experience with equipment provided through Disability Services. Fact quizzes and comprehension tests might raise questions about how our reading brains work and how well our reading devices and formats help or hinder. What research is in progress? Is there a CS agenda for this social and economic ecosystem? Why do people think reading is a vision-only activity? Ok, comics, photos, and crosswords are a bit challenging, but plain old print is so well handled by TTS. Let’s open our eyes and ears and fingers to a fuller range of capabilities. I would love to be a test subject for eReading experiments.
The ACB and NFB lawsuit against ASU-Amazon textbook test program is a big deal for discrimination activism and an educational opportunity on accessibility. The detailed complaint explains difficulties of blind student textbook use at ASU and how adoption of the Amazon Kindle trial program will set a bad example.
The textbook program has caught Television public interest reports on journalism student Darrell Shandrow. Comments in Chronicle.com Wired Campus report on the lawsuit have invoked understanding and support mixed with political outrage at ADA accommodations. Related issues on Reading Rights activism on publisher/author control over text-to-speech cloud the issues of accessibility of the Kindle device itself.
The purpose of this post is to inject my own opinion as well as link to some useful resources.
I speak as a former educator who struggled with textbook bulk and price; software engineer with spoken interface development experience;
and research manager with technology transfer background.
Although not a member of either ACB or NFB, I am a
visually impaired avid reader living hours a day with text-to-speech and affectionate owner of many assistive tools described in this blog.
Oh, yeah, also an Arizona resident with some insight into ASU programs and ambitions.
I try to untangle the arguments my own way. Based on my own ignorance of a few years ago, I suspect many sighted people and those in process of losing vision lack understanding of how audio reading works. I provide a recorded demo of myself working the menus of a device for book and news reading to show the comparable capabilities lacking in the Amazon Kindle.
By the way, I’ve never seen, fondled, or considered buying a Kindled.
Untangling the Kindle-ASU-textbook Arguments
- Text-to-speech (TTS) is the work horse, the engine, for assistive technology (AT) for visually impaired (VI) people. TTS reads content as well as providing a spoken interface for menus, forms, selections, and other user operations. Nothing novel, implemented in dozens of devices on the market, standard expected functionality to support accessibility.
- Amazon product designers included TTS presumably to provide a talking interface for mobile, hands-full users. TTS could read unlocked books, news, or documents downloaded to the Kindle, but only on Kindle software and rights management platforms. This established TTS as a mainstream commodity functionality, much like a spell checker as expected in any text processor.
- Book authors reacted that TTS represented a different presentation for which they could not control pricing or distribution. Amazon said, “ok, we’ll flip the default to give publishers control over enabling TTS”. Accessibility activists complained “hey, you just took away an essential attractive feature of the Kindle” and “You authors, don’t you want us to buy your books in a form we can read as immediately as on-screen readers”.
- More experience with the Kindle revealed that the TTS capability was not implemented to support the spoken interface familiar for VI people in commodity AT devices. See our downloadable demo and referenced tutorials to understand the critical role of spoken interfaces.
- Bummer. The Kindle that promised to become a main stream accessible reading device was a brick, a paperweight, a boat anchor or door jamb if it weighed enough, just an inert object to someone who could not read the buttons or see menus and other interactions. Useless, cutting off 250,000 books and every other kind of content Amazon could funnel into the Kindle. Well there’s always Victor Reader, Bookport, Icon, and a host of other devices we already own plus services like Bookshare, NFB Newsline, NLS reading services, Audible commercial audios, etc. Disappointed, a step forward missed.
- Now universities enter the picture with a partnership opportunity to test out the Kindle on textbooks for selected courses, an educational experiment for the next academic year. Rising complaints from students about textbook costs, often $500 per semester, plus chronic dissatisfaction with the packaged all-in-one book has lead to alternative formats, even abandonment, of textbooks in many subjects. Great opportunity here to re-examine educational benefits of a product and distribution system already familiar to tech-greedy students. But would the learning outcomes hold up? Amazon doesn’t say how rigorous this test program would be, but at least there’s be more Kindle-driven classroom feedback.
- Uh, oh. Those darned blind students can’t use the Kindle. Can universities block them from Kindle trial courses? or let them in, relying on the established accessible material support practices forced by A.D.A.? This messes up the trial because the total population of students unfortunately includes visually impaired and a range of other disabilities. Of course, there could be an economic winner here to reduce accessible material preparation costs, easily as much as the $500 Kindle when all staff and scanning prep time are included. Or even insights might be gained into how Kindle mitigates learning difficulties for some disabilities. Ouch, though conversely, it could be that reading on-screen amplifies learning difficulties students have overcome with print practices. Well, it’s a trial, an experiment, right? But, actually, this taxpayer and researcher asks, what are the parameters and the point of the trial program with several universities? Huh, just asking, can’t find any detail.
- So the well-lawyered NFB and ACB get together and back a long-time accessibility activist and now ASU student in a lawsuit injunction. Why get so huffy and legal? Outsiders don’t know in detail what mediation or requests have already been suggested and rebuffed but, just guessing, these organizations are probably long on experience and short on patience on accessibility issues and promises. There’s a history of Apple pushing onto universities IPods and ITunes when these devices and services weren’t accessible. Settling with the Massachusetts blind services, Apple finally got out an accessible ITunes. Amazon has a legal record on accessibility as does the LSAT.com registration website. I can well understand the reasoning that a big gorilla like Amazon won’t take time for accessibility if it can avoid doing so, for both profit and ego motives. The lawsuit simply says “Time out! Amazon, you can make the Kindle accessible just like standard practice with AT we already use.” And “ASU and other universities, don’t even think of harming VI students or taking on a tainted experiment that excludes VI students”. What’s the hurry, everybody? The textbook problem won’t be solved next year, the market will always be there, so it’s possible to have a trial that’s fair, responsible, and more informative if accessibility is counted in.
- Now, even local Phoenix television stations got interested in the story and, wow, what an educational moment! ASU public relations, still not recovered from their Obama honorary degree fiasco, responded with a flat “we have disability services in place. That’s enough!”. But this taxpayer thinks differently. Part of the experiment is rapid delivery of texts and other materials, perhaps challenging or disrupting disability services. And if the Kindle device itself is part of a trial, then what happens with students using alternative, perhaps even superior, technology? Trivia like different pagination in Kindle texts compared with converted texts distributed to VI students might introduce problems. Isn’t this setting up the trial for either (1) obvious bias by exclusion of VI students or (2) additional burden on VI students? Why not just wait until the device is comparable enough that harm is minimized and more is knowable in the long run about learning outcomes and economic models?
- But, wait, there might be a real technology barrier here. Software engineers know that the cost of repair for a missing requirement goes way up long after design, becoming deadly after deployment. Accessibility was not a requirement for the reader device although it’s a legal requirement in the university marketplace. Oops, this was a blunder. If the design of the Kindle software permits sliding in functionality like calls to the TTS engine, retrofit might not be too bad. But there’s a browser, keyboard, and lots of interactions that could get tricky. Usability is notably difficult to do well without experimentation and iteration. So, this is just one more case study relevant to the many software engineering texts in the Amazon market.
- Finally, as others have commented, regarding the Chronicle.com forum, railing against A.D.A. as an intrusion on public rights, a sign of backwardness for disabled individuals, and general disregard of human rights is, well, sickening. I wish those detractors a broken leg during a health insurance lapse with a long flight of stairs to the rest room. That’s life, bozos, and we’ll all be disabled in the long run.
What is the listening experience? Hear me show you!
I use the Levelstar Icon to download books from Bookshare.org. My library is currently about 1000 books, complemented by daily doses of news feeds and newspapers. I’ve turned this situation into a demo:
download the 15 minute AYWC-reading-demo.mp3 from http://apodder.org/stumbles/
You’ll hear me narrating book downloads and reading. The demo illustrates both (1) TTS reading books and news and (2) working around menus and lists of books do perform operations commonly shown ona screen. This latter capability is the crux of the Kindle accessibility disagreement.
For more information on this device and interface, the Levelstar.com audio tutorials illustrate the standard practice of supplanting screens with voice-enabled menus. For the record, the operating environment is Linux and the designers of the Icon and its partner product APH BraillePlus are blind. Personally, I think the mainstream product capabilities have a lot to learn and gain from the AT industry it has so far excluded. Perhaps, following the Curb Cuts principle even better, universal designs will emerge from this mess.
Definition: Resilience: : an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
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.
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.
- Elizabeth Edwards ‘Resilience: Reflections on Dealing with Life’s Adversities ‘
- 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
- Harry Martin ‘What Blind People Want Sighted People to Know About Blindness
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What’s a print-disabled reader to do? Bookshare!
Grabbing my Identity Cane to Join the Culture of Disability
The Pleasures of Audio Reading
Aren’t we Vision Losers lucky?
Resources, support, and reality check for macular degenerates
Consolidating links in Prescott Arizona about vision loss