Why is accessibility so hard? Glad you asked!

Dear President of ACM Vint Cerf:

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

Analyzing the computing field accessibility deficit

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

My favorite resources — great reading

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

Quintessential challenges: computational thinking and omitted requirement accelerating costs

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

Remediation opportunity: learn by fixing your own website

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

Remediation Opportunity: Establish CSEdWeek challenges

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

Remediation Opportunity: Listen to people who daily conquer accessibility challenges

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

The Remaining Challenge after Remediation: absorbing complex information

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

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

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

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

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

Yours, in respect and hope for change, finally

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


Prescott Needs a Community Inclusive Disability Council

Scooter and Sticky Analyze Their Community Disability Life Situations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prescott Arizona Really Needs a Disability Council

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

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

Chatanooga Mission Statement

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

What Vision Losers Ask in Searches

Personal Themes: Planning, mobility, advocacy, citizenship

In the preceding post on search terms about technology, I recapped some lessons about technology assisting me as a Vision Loser: the wonderful free NVDA scrreen reader; gaining independence using a talking ATM; some technicalities of working with the generally usable WordPress platform; Applemania for assistive technology; and the over-arching theme of TTS, i.e. text-to-speech with synthetic voices. The terms people use to reach my blog expand my range of topics even if I have to make up an interpretation for the searcher’s goal. This post covers more personal than technological topics.

Terms and Basics: “Legally blind, disability, and personal meaning”

Search terms used to reach this blog

  • creative activities for the legally blind
  • what is print-disabled.
  • can a legally blind person join the navy
  • legally blind disability
  • culture of disability
  • identity after disability
  • who are the legally blind non-readers?
  • are legally blind people fully blind
  • jobs for us citizen for partially blind
  • forms for legally blind declaration
  • adversity as change in disabilities
  • resilience partially sighted
  • disability resilience visual impairment
  • orientation and mobility trainer
  • the use of technology and loss of eyesight
  • declaration of legally blind

VisionAware glossary of vision-related terms offers one framework. This topic is certainly a matter of curiosity for both sighted and Vision Losers like me. Frankly, I am rather indifferent to precise terms and refer to myself as blind, partially sighted, visually impaired, disabled, etc. according to how I think the person I’m communicating with will understand and react. More important, I believe, is that the Vision Loser can be matter of fact and comfortable about the situation. Of course, practically speaking, there is that extra box to check on tax forms, that ID card or driver’s license card, the signature line you’re asked for, and many other details of personal and financial transactions. To my knowledge, there is no moment you get a stamp of “legally blind” but rather a process lets you know it is happening. In fact, vision may fluctuate up and down along scales of acuity and bredth of field that was for years my diagnosis of “stable, but precarious”. In fact, I walked through TSA checkpoints with a white cane in one hand and a still valid driver’s license for ID and even once rented a car from Hertz when my companion couldn’t get a debit card approval. No one ever asks “hey, are you legal?” except in bars. And often the situation itself such as bright lights may define whether your sight is functionally useful. What I find more interesting and challenging is planning and navigating the rehab maze. That will be a future post. For now, the above terms just identify some of the ways people look for information.

Using white, symbol, identity canes

  • white cane low vision
  • how to use symbol cane
  • legally blind safety issues
  • white cane with GPS
  • starting to carry a white cane
  • he walks with white cane
  • define white cane
  • waving cane accident car 2
  • blind man’s Harley: white canes and gend 2
  • slim line white cane
  • do i need a white cane with my vision
  • use white cane
  • white cane adjusting
  • blindness and adjusting to the white can
  • tip white cane
  • symbol cane
  • symbol cane for low vision
  • the cost of not using my white cane
  • blind woman walking with white stick
  • white stick and drivers have to stop
  • using the white stick

  • no sidewalks for the disabled
  • measuring for white cane
  • using an id cane
  • emotional response to using a mobility cane
  • partially sighted use of white stick
  • white cane technologies

Terminology: identity cane in U.S. called symbol cane in U.K. and differs from ‘long cane’ used for practical mobility. Colors also may differ internationally, white in the U.S.

Back when I was starting to require mobility assistance, I wrote about the values of using an Identity Cane. This instrument was a puny stick valuable for poking around and showing others of my disability, but wasn’t functionally useful for walking or climbing stairs safely. Due to the sorry state of social services in the U.S., notably retirement-focused Arizona, it took a long search, months after I really needed help, to find an OMT (Orientation and Mobility Trainer). Gifted from the state with a $35 sturdier cane matched to my height and walking style, I gratefully received a few lessons in waving the cane and negotiating street crossings.

Here’s the answer to the basic question. You use the cane either tapping or sweeping ahead to tell of rough surfaces, dips, curbs rocks, people’s feet, etc. Meantime, using residual vision, you watch for upper body hazards, like trees, mailboxes, street signs, elbows, etc. Climbing stairs, I use the cane to tap each step then sweep when I think it’s a landing, with bottom steps being the most treacherous. Crossing streets requires far more strategies of listening for and watching turners and signal timings, with the cane displayed or waved to attract drivers’ attention. That
is how I do it, probably not completely according to rules, but I haven’t been to the Emergency room in years. Note: as to measurements, this does require the help of an OMT person watching you and your own personal experience with a length that feels comfortable. It’s a matter of a few inches more or less. Furthermore, at first your arm gets tired so a few trial lengths may be affected. My OMT gave me two specific useful pieces of advice: (1) avoiding a nasty step on the path to my lifelong learning classes and (2) make yourself “big” and noticeable at intersections.

My current problem is actually when people try to help and distract me from the synchrony and concentration of using the cane. Often companion walkers get in a hurry or talking and tell me something like ‘5 steps’ when there are are 4 or 6 or, never matter, let me take the steps at my own pace and style. Most of this training is simple but just requires someone to nudge you out and help build confidence, then practice and learning one’s own mistakes and recovery strategies. This is a difficult interpersonal issue as to how to refuse help as well as when and how to ask for assistance.

Another concern is becoming a hazard myself, like tripping a shopper looking at grocery shelves. Or tangling canes when walking with someone with their own mobility difficulties. And, I’m currently having a real phobia for street crossing, with too many instances of drivers entering the crosswalk a few feet away and just plain realization of the dangers of inattentive drivers in a hurry. Now, we need a national law to install yet another electronic gadget in cars, receivers from a cane telling drivers we’re around — like your GPS might say ;blind pedestrian at corner waiting to cross Willow Creek. Please wait’.

Accessible websites and advocacy

Terms asking about accessibility

  • “heading list” + accessibility
  • computer curb cuts wikipedia
  • bad accessibility websites
  • page layout of whitehouse.gov
  • sites with bad accessibility
  • image alt tag checker
  • how do i find my alt tags for my picture
  • headings accessibility test
  • universal design for web applications we
  • pdf crippled
  • Google book search accessibility

It comes with the territory that something in society makes a Vision Loser feel like a real loser, for avoidable reasons. Those ‘advocacy juices’ start to flow, you learn why social practices are so harmful, find and apply constructive advice, rationalize compromises, use mistakes as educational opportunities, and generally contribute to the betterment of society. Well, that would certainly be nice but if it were that easy a few active complainers could clean up the messes in society that hamper our ability to operate like everybody else. For me, with my lifelong exposure to the Internet, web accessibility is a perfect advocacy focus. For others, safety or OMT or low tech devices or public transit or rehab or costs might blend professional backgrounds and advocacy missions.

This is my major criticism of inaccessible web sites. If only headings were used to organize and label page parts, screen reader capability to navigate by headings could be fully utilized. Literally hours of wasted time extracting mental maps of pages or tabbing around the wrong lists could be avoided. Indeed, I think failure to use headings is a root cause of many accessibility problems, e.g. lists of unrelated links, maintenance messes, … When I see a page using an ‘h4’ only, I know page authors don’t understand separation of content and presentation nor are they using established progressive enhancement engineering processes. My recommendation in my complaint to site owners is to attend accessibility courses, read myriad blog posts, track #accessibility and #a11y on Twitter, and read Chisholm and Mays ‘Universal Design for Web Applications’. Other culprits, however, are web page editing and content management systems that, hopefully, will soon be superseded by projects like Drupal with accessibility as an important selling point. H1, H2, H3,… is so fundamentally sound for both writing and reading web pages.

Citizenship and Electronic Voting


  • the nitty gritty of electronic voting

I wrote about my experiences in the 2008 primary and national elections with a generally favorable impression of the usability of the voting tablet. However, voices sped up or slowed down and I had no way of validating the printed output. The voting system vendor Premiere Election Systems is now defunct, with a rather poor history of counting accuracy complaints. Who knows what’s next for this autumn’s national and local elections. It would be great to have a more common interface among similar devices: voting, ATM, store check-out, remote controls, thermostats,… Common functions include: navigation, voice control, selection, confirm/cancel, etc. for users and various administrative setup of ballots, etc. Foremost is that ‘all things should talk to users’ and eventually hold on-board speakable manuals and environmental information. Just

My main message on citizenship is that vision loss should not be a disable for citizenship but we have to be take the initiative to make the voting experience productive. For some people, independence and privacy are not big issues, so taking a sighted person to mark you ballot feels fine. For others, like me, I want to stretch the system and use voting as a teachable moment for family, friends, and community. That’s a tall order but legally mandated. For U.S. citizens now is the time to find out how you can vote in the upcoming elections, like calling or visiting local election boards. This was a good experience for me and even helped the election officers to watch me at work.

Remembering Sputnik: Just a memoir moment

Terms used to reach this post

  • impact of sputnik on mathematics
  • how did sputnik affect America mathematics?
  • how did Russia create sputnik first
  • sputniks effect on the public
  • how did sputnik effect the future?
  • political sputnik
  • how did sputnik effect public education
  • how did sputnik affect education
  • world effects of sputnik
  • sputnik tv public
  • bay of pigs then sputnick song
  • computing arpa “von braun”
  • sputnik lead to modern technology such a
    space race 1950’s and military industrial 1

This topic has nothing to do with vision loss or accessibility but rather is a memoir and personal history of Sputnik. For many scientists and technologists in our 50’s and 60’s Sputnik was a notable national event (1957) that precipitated funding for and attention toward math and science education. Summer institutes for high school students and teachers, fellowships, and, drum roll, DARPA and the advent of the Internet. Our Social Media class has proposed lifelong learning activities where we collect, post, and record our experiences and related materials for our progeny and educational systems. Amazingly, most of us had little American history covering WWII, Cold War, etc. just lived through it haphazardly. Today’s students also don’t get much modern history, so our event recollections, like the NPR story Corp project, might provide legacies and primary materials.

Thanks for asking!!

Search terms provide really useful feedback.

Resilience: Bouncing Back from Vision Loss

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

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

Book: Resilience as Articulated by Elizabeth Edwards

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

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

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

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

Book: The World’s Greatest Traveler, circa 1840

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Resilience experiences

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

My bounces from interviews and books

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

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

But, oh, those social services

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Links

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

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

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

Related Posts from ‘As Your World Changes’

  1. 5 Tenets for Adjusting to Vision loss

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

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

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

  5. The Pleasures of Audio Reading

  6. Aren’t we Vision Losers lucky?

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

  8. Consolidating links in Prescott Arizona about vision loss

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

Accessible Voting Worked for Me, I Think

It was a fine warm fall day for voting with an overhang of smoke from controlled burns in nearby forests.

After an earlier trial demo and a mixed experience in the September primary, I felt geared up for the mechanics of voting independently in this penultimate election of my lifetime. Ending a year of political junkiness and some serious conversations with “Jack the Dog Walker” on state ballot initiatives, I knew my choices.

Then I spoke those words that so shake up the poll workers at the Yavapai County early voting office — “I need Audio voting”. With white cane for identity, I waited patiently while the exceptional procedures sprung into action. Given head phones and number key pad and a chair, the poll worker returned my ID and inserted the card to rev up the premiere Election Systems workstation. Ominously, the audio did not work. Reset. Whoops, audio but no keypad response. Move over one workstation and I was finally in business with instructions coming through the head phones and my brain fighting to cancel out the surrounding noise of the other voters in the office lobby alcove.

I was truly awe struck at the announcement of the office Presidential Electors, forgetting momentarily the key to press to actually cast this important vote. Then I got into the rhythm – 6 for next, 5 to vote, 4 for back. This ballot’s interaction was easier than the primary which required more confirmation and interaction to move among races. Each race and contestants or YES/NO answers were clearly announced. However, a 7 to cancel a vote also slowed the voice, in contrast to the disconcerting speech speedup I experienced in September. This round I understood the sample ballot and could predict how far to go. Reading the ballot for confirmation, a 9 key pressed, the clatter of the printer and I was done. I thanked the poll worker for competantly handling this exceptional Vision Loser.

Whether my vote is actually counted accurately is a whole different matter, something the U.S. must fix if it cares for democracy as much as for marketplace ideology. Exhilarated from my independent action, I trekked on down town for lunch near the famous Prescott Territorial Court House. Now, about those accessible street crossing signals — well, “adopt an intersection” is next of the agenda of this Vision Loser Voter.

Uh, oh, just when I thought I was safe from campaigning, comes a warning about Monday night scenic opportunity using the Court House Plaza prop. Sigh…

Previous Posts:

voting Without Viewing? Yes, but It’s so Slow!

Taking advantage of accessible voting

I decided that since the Help America vote act had encumbered quite a view million $$$ for fancy electronic equipment with accessible extension, I would take my chances to vote as independently as possible this round. Here’s the story of early voting in an Arizona primary. Vision Losers might use this experience to evaluate their own voting options. Other citizens and technologists will learn how electronic voting works for one tech savvy Vision Loser.

Against a background of the sorry state of American voting processes

First, let me say that, as an informed computer scientist, I do not for one nanosecond believe the odds are very high that my voting precinct actually got a correct tally of votes, including mine. I voted on a setup from the infamous Diebold, now renamed to Premiere Election, Systems. There’s just no way any independent assurance organization can reasonably test a black box version of software and hardware, let alone all the combinations of diverse local ballot designs multiple configurations of the setup, and inevitable versions of evolving software. And that’s not worrying about human error by voting board personnel, malicious people, or silly policies like Ohio’s sleep-over procedures. Business ideology has trumped common sense democracy for Americans, unlike Australia and other countries that adopt an open approach.

Here is how I voted in September 2008

A preview and trial at my local voting board

Nevertheless, I wanted my independence and to force myself through the best possible preparation. A few months ago, I paid a visit to the Yavapai county recorder’s Office for a personal trial on a mock ballot so I would be familiar with the equipment. I was reasonably impressed with the audio system, very enthusiastic about the personnel who welcomed the opportunity to try out their audio setup, and comfortable about working the equipment rather than asking someone to read and mark my ballot. I knew the actual voting would be slow and that I needed to do my homework on candidates and races so I could concentrate on the voting act itself.

Getting from sample to real ballot

I was pleased to find a nice little primary coming up in September with early voting several weeks ahead. One primary race is especially important in Arizona district No. 1, to replace rep. Rick Renzi who was indicted on 35 counts of fraud and other bad stuff. With a senator as presumptive Presidential candidate and a 40% voting record, Poor representation of this region for months especially annoys me as economic and social policies have consequences I had not foreseen as I grapple with my own rehabilitation and my family’s future. Both major parties had a good slate of 4 or 5 candidates with experience relative to a highly diverse region of Indian reservations, small cities, and lots of open space.

I made my choice of party and candidate for Congress and began to look for the other races of interest. There were few contests so I assumed the ballot would be a piece of cake. Actually, I had some trouble figuring out the full set of races. I used VoteSmart, the AZ clean elections site, the county listing of candidates, Arizona Republic and Daily Courier candidate blurbs, even Wikipedia. A sample ballot arrived just before my trip to the polling place, but my reader and I were confused about a long list of write-in lines.

The nitty-gritty mechanics of voting

So, as much prepared as I could be, I entered the county office lobby and asked to vote using the audio system. I think I was the first to request this as a flurry of calls upstairs quickly produced an access card to a screen protected by side blinders and the headset and keypad I had used in my previous experiment. Oh, and most important was a chair.

To summarize the audio voting process, you click the appropriate numbered buttons to advance through races, making and confirming choices while hearing the race titles, constraints and candidate names through headphones. There is nothing visual happening. I listened to the instructions and tried to adjust the volume to match both a synthetic voice announcement of races and human recorded reading of candidate names, using female voices. Occasionally, other customers and voters in a noisy lobby overcame the headset ear pads. The input device was a simple phone keypad with larger sized keys, comfortably held in my lap.

Uh, oh, am I in a loop?

I moved quickly through my choice for the congressional and legislative races. Then things became unfamiliar with more races for county offices and state supreme Court seats all with only a write-in option. Not having any choice, I kept hitting 6 to next race, 9 to confirm my under-voting for continuation to next race. At one point , my attention drifted and I seemed to be in a loop of hitting next without actually having races announce, maybe between district, county, and state races.

After a while I got bored and tried an actual write-in, “gump” sounded good at the moment, and was easy to type although tedious to spell and confirm. Then I got serious and canceled out of write-in. In successive races for supreme court seats, the synthetic voice seemed to be getting faster, and very high pitched. Now, I can listen to really fast voices on my reading appliances. But by the end of what seemed like 50 races, I couldn’t understand the voice. Nor could I remember how to get the main menu or adjust voices. I was stuck, hoping the end would come before I fell asleep at the keypad. Finally, the printer attached to the side clattered and the voice trailed off into oblivion. My nearly trance state lifted and I called for the attendant to complete the session.

Had I actually accomplished my voting goals? I think so as the early races that mattered seemed to be OK, but since I lost control in the middle and was pretty confused toward the end, I can only hope nothing invalidated those early race clicks. This whole process took about 30 minutes, long enough I had to wake up my driver to leave . I reported my troubles to the poll assistants but left unsure we understood the cause of my loop and voice speed-up. My guess is that the speed up started when I hit the relevant key during my write-in fumbling and the modes got confused as I skipped through further write-in choices.

Yes, I will vote this way again, but can others?

I had hoped this experience could be recommended to others, but, alas, I fear those less adept at computer interactions might not find the humor in the loop and could freak out with babbling voices. I will vote again this way in November but next time pay lots more attention to the exit, speed, and volume options. Everybody has a limit to attention and energy to put into this voting exercise. Half an hour for a handful of races and an enormous number of later vacuous choices is a dubious way of getting the job done.

Further concerns about time commitments, voice shocks, and practice

Another lesson for next time is to seriously invest more effort into learning about picking candidates. I hope to find more help from the SunSounds state audio assistance radio system or locate better candidate description materials. For example, the AZ Clean elections brochure that arrived in the mail was organized by race, then district, then party, then candidate which was beyond my patience to scan or anybody else’s willingness to read to me only the district No. 1 choices on pages 4, 39, and so on. Perhaps voting early beats preparation of more candidate comparisons and recommendations from organizations like league of women voters. Perhaps my “domain knowledge” of elections and state offices made my Google and dog pile searches susceptible to donate Now organizations. Certainly, I have not yet found a good source of advice directed to people like me voting blind for the first time. What I really want is a web page duplicating the ballot, divided into levels of government, with attached very short bios and links to longer histories, position statements, and reputable sources of candidate comparisons. The HTML and hypertext structuring are important as PDF is hard to use by audio and often loses the content structure when converted to a text stream. It might also be nice to have a candidate-a-day RSS feed to make the information more digestible in smaller chunks.

I would recommend to others considering using an audio or visually assisted voting workstation to request a trial. Yes, that means taking up time from election board workers, but I found them helpful, friendly, and interested in feedback. Anybody who can handle a bank ATM via audio should be ready to try out the system. However, someone with hearing problems might not be able to adjust the equipment to their needs in a noisy environment. The long-time blind who readily adapt to new devices should appreciate the new-found independence. However, new Vision Losers are faced with lot of work to master both the information gathering and the audio assisted voting process.

My biggest warning is the time commitment to survive the rigors of a long ballot. Had I wanted to actually write in a lot of names, I would have been there until closing time. With so few voters like me, there seems little data to accumulate experience for a warning label, but this is a practical constraint. Voters need to know how much time to ask of their drivers. With more voters using the assistive workstation, there would be a long wait just to get your chance. I suppose I could have asked for assistance during my loops and voice accelerations, but I just wanted to get out of write-in hell. Far more instructional time could be required for first time users of the audio assistance, especially if the equipment balks at start up or printing. And, what happens if a voter gives up during a voting session or nearly goes into a trance, as happened to me? Of course, there are other disabilities more complex than vision, such as strength and mobility, for using different input devices.

Getting a bit more technical, in my earlier visit for a trial, we discussed the need for a simulator for voter training using the audible equipment. I’d appreciate knowing if this exists anywhere. Since the user interaction is by phone keypad, a simulator with a mock ballot, as in my trial, could service widespread people if they knew the voting system designated for them. This could be done by phone or be a downloaded or web 2.0 app, something even I could write if I knew the rules. I could have called up and learned the instructions in the quiet of my home, memorized my way out when I hit a snag, and also reported problems back to the ballot designers and equipment vendors. Had I known about the write-in race survivor test, I’m not sure I would have followed through an actual vote. Those suffering from synthetic voice shock could at least determine whether they wanted to try to and were able to interpret the race announcements and instructions.

While the overall interaction of voting with only audio is really pretty easy, clearly the keypad needs a separate HELP key and RESTORE DEFAULTS action. Maybe these were available, but I was so deep into figuring out how to reach the end of the ballot, I was not interested in finding the escape button. More seriously, as a software testing expert and veteran system breaker, I really would like to replicate my experiences with the next-race loop and accelerating voice problems. It would be too irreverent and silly for a 65 year old lady to whiz around a county office building crowing that I’d broken the system, lookee, the computer is in a really bad state. No, I really appreciated the professionalism and help of the voting staff, but, well, I think I did break something and wish it could be reported and corrected.

So, why don’t I, a formerly reputable software professional try to do more? Well, first, with only two years of legal blindness I am still a learner in the assistive technology world. But more seriously, getting on my high horse, this whole system is an affront to U.S. citizenry. In my previous post, I equated electronic voting with two mixed metaphors, a “moon shot for democracy” and “extreme voting”, like a sporting challenge.

A rant on eVoting as a ‘bungled moon shot’

Just as sputnik shocked the U.S. into action for education in science, just as a catastrophe on the moon in 1969 would have undermined U.S. Self-confidence, just as the later space shuttles failures signaled a decline in space travel prowess, a definitive failure in our voting system undermines our feeling of living in a democracy. Yet, there is every sign that our voting system continues to be bungled, in the names of fancier technology and free enterprise. In my mind, the quest for a technological solution is a doable, long term project but only if committed to the technologists with expertise and freedom to question the safety of every step in the process, test each component down to its core against its specifications, simulate to exhaustion, and finally rely on combined community acceptance of safety to launch. In many ways, a rocket system is easier to design because it works with and against the continuous laws of physics, whereas a voting system works on discrete math and with and against the laws of human capabilities and differences. The security quality of human interactions with system is another dimension of complexity, but the bottom line is that voting systems cannot be black box. Discrete systems must be subjected to inductive reasoning applied to the code, hardware, user scenarios, with a huge dose of version control. Experimental software engineering has established the efficacy of software inspection, especially performed early and often using multiple viewpoints from varieties of expertise. Asking a weak testing regime to accept the assurance of vendors of proprietary systems, even against clear signs of fallibility, is like delivering a rocket to the pad, asking the astronauts to jump on, and not telling mission control how the rocket will behave.

My other metaphor of extreme voting is based on both user and developer experience. it is a lot to ask voting equipment vendors to produce extensions to service all ranges of human differences, including those considered disabilities. I was amazed the keypad and audio system worked as well as it did. Indeed, I might ask why spend all that money on fancy visual interfaces when audio will do, except for hearing impaired people. Users like me are forced into extreme and unknown conditions like long ballots read by unfamiliar voices marked by never before touched keypads. Please accept my invitation to use a bank ATM by audio to get a feeling for this experience. My current ATM transaction time is about a minute by knowing the exact sequence of key clicks, but at first I had little idea of the menu structures or the confirmation, cancellation, and selection instructions held in mind. Voting by audio is a similar experience.

To sum up, even though I had prepared myself well, I fell into a mess of write-in races which cause me to either mishandle the keypad input or to find an actual flaw in the system. In either case, the unpredictability of the long ballot and time required to work through it present, not insurmountable, but discomfiting conditions of voting independently. But I survived, and will continue to vote this way in the big election in November. I will also work hard in perhaps better information conditions to identify the races and candidates where I really care about my vote. I certainly do not want to leave wondering if I have voted for the right guy.

References for Voting without Vision

  1. Previous post on extreme Voting and a Moon Shot for Democracy
  2. California Secretary of State appraisal of voting system security and accessibility
  3. Concerns of computer scientists about electronic voting systems
  4. Audio version of this post