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

Story: A Screen Reader Salvages a Legacy System

This post tells a story of how the NVDA Screen Reader helped a person with vision loss solve a former employment situation puzzle. Way to go, grandpa Dave, and thanks for permission to reprint from the NVDA discussion list on freelists.org.

Grandpa Dave’s Story

From: Dave Mack
To: nvda

Date: Oct 29

Subj: [nvda] Just sharing a feel good experience with NVDA
Hi, again, folks, Grandpa Dave in California, here –
I have hesitated sharing a recent experience I had using NVDA because I know this list is primarily for purposes of reporting bugs and fixes using NVDA. However, since this is the first community of blind and visually-impaired users I have joined since losing my ability to read the screen visually, I have decided to go ahead and share this feel-good experience where my vision loss has turned out to be an asset for a group of sighted folks. A while ago, a list member shared their experience helping a sighted friend whose monitor had gone blank by fixing the problem using NVDA on a pen drive so I decided to go ahead and share this experience as well – though not involving a pen drive but most definitely involving my NVDA screen reader.


Well, I just had a great experience using NVDA to help some sighted folks where I used to work and where I retired from ten years ago. I got a phone call from the current president of the local Federal labor union I belonged to and she explained that the new union treasurer was having a problem updating their large membership database with changes in the union’s payroll deductions that they needed to forward to the agency’s central payroll for processing. She said they had been working off-and-on for almost three weeks and no one could resolve the problem even though they were following the payroll change instructions I had left on the computer back in the days I had written their database as an amateur programmer. I was shocked to hear they were still using my membership database program as I had written it almost three decades ago! I told her I didn’t remember much abouthe dBase programming language but I asked her to email me the original instructions I had left on the computer and a copy of the input commands they were keying into the computer. I told her I was now visually impaired, but was learning to use the NVDA screen reader and would do my best to help. She said even several of the Agency’s programmers were
stumped but they did not know the dBase program language.


A half hour later I received two email attachments, one containing my thirty-year-old instructions and another containing the commands they were manually keying into their old pre-Windows computer, still being used by the union’s treasurer once-a-month for payroll deduction purposes. Well, as soon as I brought up the two documents and listened to a comparison using NVDA, I heard a difference between what they were entering and what my instructions had been. They were leaving out some “dots, or periods, which should be included in their input strings into the computer. I called the Union’s current president back within minutes of receiving the email. Everyone was shocked and said they could not see the dots or periods. I told them to remember they were probably still using a thirty-year-old low resolution computer monitor and old dot-matrix printer which were making the dots or periods appear to be part of letters they were situated between.

Later in the day I got a called back from the Local President saying I had definitely identified the problem and thanking me profusely and said she was telling everyone I had found the cause of the problem by listening to errors non of the sighted folks had been able to see . And, yes, they were going to upgrade their computer system now after all these many years. (laughing) I told her to remember this experience the next time anyone makes a wisecrack about folks with so-called impairments. She said it was a good lesson for all. Then she admitted that the reason they had not contacted me sooner was that they had heard through the grapevine that I was now legally blind and everyone assumed I would not be able to be of assistance. What a mistake and waste of time that ignorant assumption was, she confessed.


Well, that’s my feel good story, but, then, it’s probably old hat for many of you. I just wanted to share it as it was my first experience teaching a little lesson to sighted people in my
own small way. with the help of NVDA. –


Grandpa Dave in California

Moral of the Story: Screen Readers Augment our Senses in Many Ways = Invitation to Comment

Do you have a story where a screen reader or similar audio technology solved problems where normal use of senses failed? Please post a comment.


And isn’t it great that us older folks have such a productive and usable way of overcoming our vision losses? Thanks, NVDA projectn developers, sponsors, and testers.

Crossing the RSS Divide – making it simpler and compelling


RSS is a web technology for distributing varieties of content to wide audiences with minimal fuss and delay, hence it’s name “Really Simple Syndication”. However, I’m finding this core capability is less well understood and perhaps shares barriers among visually impaired and older adult web users. This article attempts to untangle some issues and identify good explanatory materials as well as necessary web tools. If, indeed, there is an “RSS Divide” rather than just a poor sample of web users and my own difficulties, perhaps the issues are worth wider discussion.

So, what is RSS?

Several good references are linked below, or just search for “RSS explained”. Here’s my own framework:

Think of these inter-twined actions: Announce, Subscribe, Publish, Fetch, Read/Listen/View:

  1. Somebody (called the “Publisher”) has content you’re welcome to read. In addition to producing descriptive web pages, they also tell you an address where you can find the latest content., i.e. often called a “feed”. These are URLs that look like abc.rss or abc.xml and often have words or graphics saying “RSS”.
  2. When the Publisher has something new written or recorded, they or their software, add an address to this feed, i.e. they “publish”. For example, when I publish this article on WordPress, the text will show up on the web page but also my blog feed will have a new entry. You can keep re-checking this page for changes, but that’ wastes your time, right? And sooner or later, you forget about me and my blog, sniff. Here cometh the magic of RSS!
  3. You (the “Subscriber”) have a way, the RSS client of tracking my feed to get the new article. You “subscribe” to my feed by adding its address to this “RSS client”. You don’t need to tell me anything, like your email, just paste the address in the right place to add to the list of feeds the RSS client manages for you. However, s
  4. Now, dear subscriber, develop a routine in your reading life where you decide, “ok, time to see what’s new on all my blog subscriptions”. So you start your RSS client which then visits each of the subscribed addresses and identifies new content. This “Fetch” action is like sending the dog out for the newspapers, should you have such a talented pet. The client visits each subscribed feed and notes and shows how many articles are new or unread in your reading history.

  5. At your leisure, you read the subscribed content not on the Publisher’s website but rather within the RSS client. Now, that content might be text of the web page, or audio (called podcasts), or video, etc. RSS is the underlying mechanism that brings subscribed content to your attention and action.

What’s the big deal about RSS?

The big deal here is that the distribution of content is syndicated automatically and nearly transparently. Publishers don’t do much extra work but rather concentrate on their writing, recording, and editing of content. Subscribers bear the light burden of integrating an RSS client into their reading routines, but this gets easier, albeit with perhaps too many choices. Basically, RSS is a productivity tool for flexible readers. RSS is especially helpful for those of us who read by synthetic speech so we don’t have to fumble around finding a web site then the latest post — it just shows up ready to be heard.


Commonly emphasized, RSS saves you lots of time if you read many blogs, listen to podcasts, or track news frequently. No more trips to the website to find out there’s nothing new, rather your RSS client steers you to the new stuff when and where you’re ready to update yourself. I have 150 currently active subscriptions, in several categories: news (usatoday, cnet, science daily, accesstech,…); blogs (technology, politics, accessibility, …), some in audio. It would take hours to visit all the websites, but the RSS client spans the list and tells me of new articles or podcasts in a few minutes while I’m doing something else, like waking up. With a wireless connection for my RSS client, I don’t even need to get out of bed!


This means I can read more broadly, not just from saving time, but also having structured my daily reading. I can read news when I feel like tackling the ugly topics of the day, or study accessibility by reading blogs, or accumulate podcasts for listening over lunch on the portico. Time saved is time more comfortably used.

Even more, I can structure and retain records of my reading using the RSS client. Mine arranges feeds in trees so I can skip directly to science if that’s what I feel like. I can also see which feeds are redundant and how they bias their selections.


So, RSS is really a fundamental way of using the Web. It’s not only an affordance of more comfort, but also becoming a necessity. When all .gov websites, local or national, plus all charities, etc. offer RSS feeds, it’s assumed citizens are able to keep up and really utilize that kind of content delivery. For example,>whitehouse.gov has feeds for news releases and articles by various officials that complement traditional news channels with more complete and honestly biased content, i.e. you know exactly the sources, in their own words.


The down side of RSS is overload, more content is harder to ignore. That’s why it’s important to stand back and structure reading sources and measure and evaluate reading value, which is enabled by RSS clients.

Now, about those RSS clients


After 2+ years of happily relying on the Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager RSS client, I’m rather abashed at the messy world of web-based RSS clients, unsure what to recommend to someone starting to adopt feeds.

  1. Modern browsers provide basic support for organizing bookmarks, with RSS feeds as a specific type. E.g. Firefox supports “live bookmarks”, recognizing feeds when you click the URL. A toolbar provides names of feeds to load into tabs. Bookmarks can be categorized, e.g. politics or technology. Various add-on components provide sidebar trees of feeds to show in the main reading window. Internet Explorer offers comparable combinations of features: subscribing, fetching, and reading.

  2. Special reader services expand these browser capabilities. E.g. Google Reader organizes trees of feeds, showing number of unread articles. Sadly, Google Reader isn’t at this moment very accessible for screen readers, with difficult to navigate trees and transfer to text windows. Note: I’m searching for better recommendations for visually impaired readers.
  3. I’ve not used but heard of email based RSS readers, e.g. for Outlook. Many feed subscriptions offer email to mail new articles with you managing the articles in folders or however you handle email.
  4. Smart phones have apps for managing feeds, but here again I’m a simple cell phone caller only, inexperienced with mobile RSS. I hear Amazon Kindle will let you buy otherwise free blogs.
  5. Since podcasts are delivered via feeds, services like Itunes qualify but do not support full-blown text article reading and management.

So, I’d suggest first see if your browser version handles feeds adequately and try out a few. Google Reader, if you are willing to open or already have a Google account, works well for many sighted users and can be used rather clumsily if you’re partially sighted like me. Personally, when my beloved Icon needs repair, I find any of the above services far less productive and generally put my feed reading fanaticism on hiatus.

Note: a solid RSS client will export and import feeds from other clients, using an OPML file. Here is Susan’s feeds on news, technology, science, Prescott, and accessibility with several feeds for podcasts. You’re welcome to save this file and edit out the feed addresses or import the whole lot into your RSS client.

Is there more to feeds in the future?

You betcha, I believe. First, feed addresses are data that are shared on many social media sites like Delicious feed manager. This enables sharing and recommending blogs and podcasts among fans.


A farsighted project exploiting RSS feeds is Jon Udell’s Elm City community calendar project. The goal is to encourage local groups to produce calendar data in a standard format with categorization so that community calendars can be merged and managed for the benefit of everybody. Here’s the Prescott Arizona Community Calendar.


The brains behind RS are now working on more distributed real-time distribution of feeds, Dave Winer’s Scripting News Cloud RSS project.


In summary, those who master RSS will be the “speed readers” of the web compared to others waiting for content to show up in their email boxes or wading through ads and boilerplate on websites. Indeed, many of my favorite writers and teachers have websites I’ve never personally visited but still read within a day of new content. This means a trip to these websites is often for the purpose of commenting or spending more time reviewing their content in detail, perhaps over years of archives.

References on RSS

  1. What is RSS? RSS Explained in simple terms

  2. Video on RSS in Plain English
    emphasizing speedy blog reading in web-based RSS readers


  3. Geeky explanations of RSS from Wikipedia

  4. Whitehouse.gov RSS links and explanation (semi-geeky)

  5. Examples of feeds
  6. Diane Rehm podcast show feed

Amazon Kindle, Arizona State, Accessibility — What a mess!

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

The Pleasures of Audio Reading

This post expands my response to an interesting
Reading in the Dark Survey
Sighted readers will learn from the survey how established services provide reading materials to be used with assistive technology. Vision Losers may find new tools and encouragement to maintain and expand their reading lives.

Survey Requesting feedback: thoughts on audio formats and personal reading styles?

Kestrell says:

… hoping to write an article on audio books and multiple literacies but, as far as I can find, there are no available sources discussing the topic of audio formats and literacy, let alone how such literacy may reflect a wide spectrum of reading preferences and personal styles.

Thus, I am hoping some of my friends who read audio format books will be willing to leave some comments here about their own reading of audio format books/podcasts. Feel free to post this in other places.

Some general questions:
Do you read audio format books?
Do you prefer special libraries or do you read more free or commercially-available audiobooks and podcasts?
What is your favorite device or devices for reading?
Do elements such as DRM and other security measures which dictate what device you can read on influence your choices?
Do you agree with David Rose–one of the few people who has written academic writings about audio formats and reading–that reading through listening is slower than reading visually?
How many audiobooks do you read in a week (this can include podcasts, etc.)?
Do you ever get the feeling form others that audiobooks and audio formats are still considered to be not quote real unquote books, or that reading audiobooks requires less literacy skills (in other words, do you feel there is a cultural prejudice toward reading audiobooks)?
anything else you want to say about reading through listening?

This Vision Loser’s Response

Audio formats and services


I read almost exclusively using TTS on mobile readers from DAISY format books and newspapers. I find synthetic speech more flexible and faster than narrated content. For me, human narrators are more distracting than listening “through” the voice into the author’s words. I also liberally bookmark points I can re-read by sentence, paragraph, or page.


Bookshare is my primary source of books and newspapers downloaded onto the Levelstar Icon PDA. I usually transfer books to the APH BookPort and PlexTalk Pocket for reading in bed and on the go, respectively. My news streams are expanded with dozens of RSS feeds of blogs, articles, and podcasts from news, magazines, organizations, and individuals. Recently, twitter supplies a steady stream of links to worthy and interesting articles, followed on either the Icon or browser in Accessible Twitter.

I never seem to follow through with NLS or Audible or other services with DRM and setups. I find the Bookshare DRM just right and respect it fully but could not imagine paying for an electronic book I could not pass on to others. I’m about to try Overdrive at my local library. I’ve been lax about signing up for NLS now that Icon provides download. No excuses, I should diversify my services.


I try to repay authors of shared scanned books with referrals to book clubs and friends, e.g. I’ve several now hooked on Winspear’s “Macy Dobbs” series.

Reading quality and quantity

I belong to two book clubs that meet monthly as well as taking lifelong learning classes at the community college. Book club members know that my ready book supply is limited and take this into consideration when selecting books. My compact with myself is that I buy selected books not on Bookshare and scan and submit them. I hope to catch up submitted already scanned books soon. Conversely, I can often preview a book before selection and make recommendations on topics that interest book club members, e.g. Jill B. Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight”. I often annoy an avid reader friend by finishing a book while she is #40 on the local library waiting list. This happens with NYTimes best sellers and Diane Rehm show reader reviews. No, I don’t feel askance looks from other readers but rather the normal responses to an aging female geek.


At any one time, I usually have a dozen books “open” on the Bookport and PlexTalk as I switch among club and course selections, fiction favorites, and heavy nonfiction. However, I usually finish 2 or 3 books a week, reading at night, with another 120 RSS feeds incoming dozens of articles daily. I believe my reading productivity is higher than before vision loss due to expedient technology delivery of content and my natural habits of skimming and reading nonlinearly. Indeed, reading by listening forces focus and concentration in a good sense and, even better, performed in just about any physical setting, posture, or other ambient conditions.
Overall, I am exquisitely satisfied with my reading by listening mode. I have more content, better affordable devices, and breadth of stimulating interests to forge a suitable reading life.

Reading wishes and wants


I do have several frustrations. (1) Books with tables of data lose me as a jumble of numbers unless the text describes the data profile. (2) While I have great access through Bookshare and NFB NewsLine to national newspapers and magazines, my state and local papers use content management systems difficult to read either online or by RSS feed. (3) Google Book Search refuses to equalize my research with others by displaying only images of pages.


For demographics, I’m 66 years old, lost last sliver of reading vision three years ago from myopic degeneration, and was only struggling a few months before settling into Bookshare. As a technologist first exposed to DECTalk in the 1980s, I appreciate TTS as a fantastically under-rated technology. However, others of my generation often respond with what I’ve dubbed “Synthetic voice shock” that scares them away from my reading devices and sources. I’d like to see more gentle introductions from AT vendors and the few rehab services available to retired vision losers. Finally, it would be great to totally obliterate the line between assistive and mainstream technology to expand the market and also enable sighted people to read as well as some of us.

References and Notes on Audio Reading

  1. Relevant previous posts from ‘As Your World Changes’

  2. Audio reading technology
    • LevelStar Icon Mobile Manager and Docking Station is my day-long companion for mail, RSS, twitter, and news. The link to Bookshare Newsstand and book collection sold me on the device. Bookshare can be searched by title, author, or recent additions, and I even hit my 100 limit last month. Newspapers download rapidly and are easy to read — get them before the industry collapses. The book shelf manager and reader are adequate but I prefer to upload in batches to the PC then download to Bookport. The Icon is my main RSS client for over 100 feeds of news, blogs, and podcasts.
    • Sadly, the American Printing House for the Blind is no longer able to maintain or distribute the Bookport due to manufacturing problems. However, some units are still around at blindness used equipment sites. The voice is snappy and it’s easy to browse through pages and leave simple bookmarks. Here is where I have probably dozens of DAISY files started, like a huge pile of books opened and waiting for my return. My biggest problem with this little black box is that my pet dog snags the ear buds as his toy. No other reader comes close to the comfort and joy of the Bookport, which awaits a successor at APH.
    • Demo of PlexTalk Pocket provides a TTS reader in a very small and comfortable package. However, this new product breaks on some books and is awkward managing files. The recording capabilities are awesome, providing great recording directly from a computer and voice memos. With a large SD card, this is also a good accessible MP3 player for podcasts.
  3. Article supporting Writers’ Guild in Kindle dispute illustrates the issues of copyright and author compensation. I personally would favor a micro payment system rather than my personal referral activism. However, in a society where a visually impaired person can be denied health insurance, where 70% unemployment is common, where web site accessibility is routinely ignored, it’s wonderful that readers have opportunities for both pleasure and keeping up with fellow book worshipers.
  4. Setting up podcast, blog, and news feeds is tricky sometimes and tedious. Here is my my OPML feeds for importing into other RSS readers or editing in a NotePad.

  5. Here’s another technology question. Could DAISY standard format, well supported in our assistive reading devices become a format suitable for distributing the promised data from recovery.gov?
    Here is a interview with DAISY founder George Kerscher on XML progress.

  6. Another physiological question is what’s going on in my brain as I switch primarily to audio mode? Are there exercises that can make that switch over more comfortable and accelerated than just picking up devices and training oneself? I’m delving into Blogs on ‘brain plasticity’
  7. (WARNING PDF) Listening to the Literacy Events of a Blind Reader – an essay by Mark Willis asks whether audio reading can cope with the critical thinking required in a complex and sometimes self-contradictory doctrine like Thomas Kuhn’s “Scientific Revolutions”. This would be a great experiment for psychology or self. Let’s also not forget the resources of Book Club Reading Lists to help determine what we missed in a reading or may have gained through audio mental processing.

Audio reading of this blog post

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

The Techie Caregiver Conundrum: Support, Training, and Growth

The Techie Caregiver Scenario


You are in your mid-forties, a busy, still employed, computing professional. Family members need your help to maintain their independence and life styles.


Dad recently retired and is bummed out because an elbow injury limits his golf rounds. As a former executive, he’s not really comfortable with computers, keyboards, and Internet dependence (think John Mc Cain). Dad also has a hearing problem in certain frequencies in addition to his sore elbow.


Grandma is a spry octogenarian but her ten year old PC cannot keep up with book club planning, PDF newsletters, and You Tube entertainment. She is developing macular degeneration, with increasing difficulty reading books, newspapers, and the never-ending stream of forms required for transactions, such as banking and insurance.


You, by the way, are in the 5% of the population with significant color blindness that alters your perceptions of web pages and applications displayed on screens.

The Caregiver’s Problems

Besides being a dutiful child, you recognize the long run benefits to all family members of keeping Dad and Grandma independent, happy, and healthy. So, it’s time to think through the situation and do some planning.


It looks like you will have several roles:

  • Tech Support for buying, setting up, and maintaining computers, networks, and phones
  • Trainer on new hardware, software, and business practices
  • Tour guide to show Dad and Grandma the web services, entertainment sites, information sources, and spy ware dangers.
  • Advocate when an extra 0 goes into a credit card payment, a service charge shows up,, insurance change forms get lost, etc.


Groan, this could be really time consuming and cause family friction. What to do?

  1. Where do you learn the technology options for your family needs? Your practices don’t seem appropriate for their specific challenges?
  2. Where can you get support for yourself when times get frustrating? How do you develop the attitude for helping without anybody seeming burdened?
  3. How can you bring some professional growth for yourself? Where do you learn about so-called assistive technologies, accessibility practices, and technology trends that meld generational differences with your company’s product lines?
  4. Hey, there must be some business opportunities here since your family elders are typical consumers with social needs that match the national costs of health care, citizen involvement, lifelong learning, and longer active life spans.

Fast forward a few months

Ok, Dad and Grandma have new, remarkably affordable notebooks, home wireless, and a bunch of web service accounts. But there have been several surprises:

  1. Dad cannot adjust to the notebook keyboard, and refuses to use the typing tutor you bought.
  2. Grandma loves using high contrast black displays that complicate your explanations over the phone, since you see even more differently than the color blindness you’re used to.
  3. Dad likes his mp3 player but cannot get the hang of transferring files, sync, and storage limits.
  4. Grandma learned about a handheld thing called Victor Reader something that will read books to her now that she has overcome Synthetic Voice shock.

    Follow up on this scenario: helping the caregiver

    In a couple of months, I’ll post a list of services, tips, etc. and welcome suggestions to slger123@gmail.com.

    Thought Provoker community inspires me to try a similar challenge for computing communities. Especially with disabilities and seniors on the Obama agenda this is one way to accept responsibility and generate interest in problem solving. I am willing to nag the computing professions to overcome their thoughtlessness and ignorance of relevant technologies and practices, as I was in that attitude and knowledge state myself recently enough to remember and cringe. Also, I’ve had to deal with caregiver issues in my own family, friends, and physical circles. I would appreciate any help in bring Caregiver Assistance into the open and make pragmatic progress.

Lessons from 2008 ‘As your world changes’

This list compiles postings from 2008 as my Lessons Learned.

Progress in adjusting to vision loss

  1. Analytic approach for personal safety risksThinking about risks
  2. Gearing up and voting independently in 2008 elections Accessible voting worked, Voting without viewing
  3. Understanding values of white canes Grabbing my identity cane and the culture of disability
  4. Assembling list of social services in local community and nationally Prescott Arizona Visually Impaired resources
  5. Understanding of software applications limits and alternatives Intuit TurboTax high contrast glitch
  6. Appreciating the power of and objections to synthetic voices Synthetic voice shock reverberates across the divides
  7. Identify accessibility issues Hear me stumble! web accessibility problems
  8. Compile and analyze how I read, write, and process information nonVisual reading technologies, Writing by listening, Literacy lost and found
    Hyperlinks considered harmful

  9. Use better information for medical opinions Controversy Discovery Engine

Community Interactions

    Safety issues walking partially sighted in a neighborhood. Thinking about risks

  1. Spreading information and interest in accessible audio voting
    Accessible voting worked, Voting without viewing

  2. Assembling list of social services in local community and nationally Prescott Arizona Visually Impaired resources
  3. Illustrating value of white canes Grabbing my identity cane and the culture of disability

Information for Computing Professionals

  1. Success and glitches in accessible electronic voting
    Accessible voting worked, Voting without viewing

  2. Explain and demonstrate how I read, write, and process information nonVisual reading technologies, Writing by listening, Literacy lost and found Hyperlinks considered harmful
  3. Demonstrate and explain the power of and objections to synthetic voices Synthetic voice shock reverberates across the divides
  4. Future thinking for assistive technology and accessibility Is there a killer app for accessibility?, Curb Cuts principle for rebooting computing,
  5. Demonstrate accessibility issues Hear me stumble! web accessibility problems
  6. Illustration of quality assurance failure in major software product Intuit TurboTax high contrast glitch
  7. Dissemination of alternative deep search method controversy Discovery Engine

Actions and Follow up

  1. Start ‘accessibility arrow’ monthly series on WCAG standards, and good and bad examples Hear me stumble! web accessibility problems
  2. Develop “adopt an intersection” accessible street crossing plan Thinking about risks
  3. Learn about emergency preparedness and alert systems for disabled Thinking about risks
  4. Maintain web page of social services in local community and nationally Prescott Arizona Visually Impaired resources
  5. Investigate SSA, tax, HIPAA, and other official information representations and accessibility Intuit TurboTax high contrast glitch
  6. Revisit and analyze how I read, write, and process information nonVisual reading technologies, <a href=”#Writing by listening, Literacy lost and found
  7. recast accessibility, reading, writing, information processing in Computational thinking terms
  8. Promote needs for and opportunities of assistive technology and accessibility at Rebooting Computing summit, January 2009
  9. Recognize and explain high quality software and hardware products, e.g. Jarte editor in screen reader mode
  10. Promote for medical information gathering controversy Discovery Engine

Best Stuff found in 2008

  1. ‘Reading in the dark’ blog for opinions and pointers on books, media studies, and accessibility opportunities. And many other blogs, too.
  2. WordPress.com content platform for supporting edit ability, accessible templates, and tag surfing
  3. Jarte editor for easy editing based on reliable Windows Wordpad engine with added multi-documents, contextual spell checker, and screen reader mode
  4. (PD) Becky Gibson, web accessibility architect
    demo of DOJO keyboard, high contrast, and screen reader demos of ARIA applications

Links to blog postings


  1. Thinking about Risks blog Permalink
    December 2008


  2. Accessible voting worked blog Permalink
    November 2008


  3. Using the Curb Cuts Principle blog Permalink
    October 2008


  4. Literacy blog Permalink
    September 2008


  5. Voting Without Viewing blog Permalink
    August 2008


  6. Synthetic Voice Shock blog Permalink
    July 2008


  7. Hyperlinks Considered Harmful blog PermalinkJuly 2008


  8. Controversy Discovery Engine for Medical Opinions
    June 2008


  9. Technology for nonVisual Reading blog Permalink
    June 2008


  10. Writing by Listening blog Permalink
    May 2008


  11. Identity Cane and Disability Culture blog Permalink May 2008
    May 2008


  12. Intuit against High Contrast blog Permalink
    March 2008


  13. ‘Hear me stumble’ blog Permalink March 2008



  14. Killer App for Accessibility blog Permalink
    January 2008


  15. Prescott Visually Impaired Services blog Permalink
    January 2008

All posts for 2008 — HTML and audio

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