Rebooting This Blog — — Reorganization and Future


Welcome to another decade of “As Your World Changes” about adjusting to vision loss using technology, plus a few other topics.


I started this blog in 2007 to reclaim my authoring skills, including the essential tasks of writing and editing. “Print disability” is not a handicap when spoken reading and writing are available and one has the time and stamina to build necessary skills. However, writing required a monumental amount of work, concentration, and frustration, because no technology is effectively accessible all the time.


After venting about limited local facilities to help my vision rehabilitation, I got serious and learned what I needed through podcasts and disability expos like CSUN. By 2008, I’d experimented with many assistive devices and settled on NVDA screen reader on Windows and the mobile Levelstar Icon (now defunct). Local iPhone service arrived in 2012, after a miserable experiment with an Android phone. My directory of services is called “Talking Assistive Technology”, available on this website.


After getting up to speed on assistive technology, my computing background led me to dig into the “science of accessibility” expounded in articles driven by troublesome use cases. Thrilled by the opportunity to vote for a wise man in 2008, on an accessible voting system, I wrote up my experience, later retracted. Invitations to professional venues led to several position papers.


For ten years, I’ve advocated for the local facilities I was denied, and now may be coming to town. Stay tuned!


The purpose of this ReBoot is to:


Below are posts organized by ‘Adjusting To Vision Loss’ human factors, ‘Getting Up To Speed with Assistive Technology’ to drive that adjustment, ‘Espousing On Assistive Technology and Accessibility’ to salve my professional desires, and ‘Becoming a Local Advocate for Living with Vision Loss’, plus a few posts that needed a home.


Warning: the blog is riddled with rotted links, to be fixed in time. As I now hang out with other retired active writers, I’m horrified at my wordy earlier posts. As the passion for vision-related topics waned and as my world changed, I’m now absorbed in the craft of writing.


Thanks for visiting this blog. Your comments are welcome. Let’s see where this phase takes me, my writing, and the local transformation we’re undertaking.

Learning to Live with Vision Loss

Getting Up To Speed With Assistive Technology

Expounding On Accessibility and Assistive Technology

Accessibility

<UL

  • Web Inaccessibility: Are Muddled Use Cases the Culprit?

  • Is There A Killer App For Accessibility?

  • Hear Me Stumble: Web Accessibility Observations

  • Hey, Intuit! What You Got Against High Contrast?

  • Listen Up! Technology, Strategy, Materials for Non Visual Reading

  • Hypertext Considered Harmful! On To Structured Reading

  • Synthetic Voice Shock Reverberates Across the Divides

  • Literacy Lost And Found: Keystrokes, Pie Charts, and Einstein

  • My Accessibility Check: Let’s All Use Our Headings

  • The Techie Care-Giver Conundrum

  • My Accessibility Check: Images and Their Surrogates

  • Twitter Has Less To See and More To Hear

  • Amazon Kindle, Arizona State, What a Mess!

    Could Text-to-Speech Beat Kindle and Smart Phones?

  • Story: A Screen Reader Rescues a Legacy System

    Computing Related

    Accessible Voting And Assessing Government Accessibility

    I retract my voting zeal in deference to the Verified Voting argument requiring paper ballots. An unregulated and un-trustworthy votingregime is not worth privacy and independence of disable voters like me. Sad!

    Becoming AA Local Activist

    When I began losing vision to the point where I needed Rehabilitation, I scanned for centers of activity away from my home in Prescott AZ. State services were hard to find, not reacting on my time scale, and disconnected from the world I knew existed from pod casts and MDSupport. Eventually, I received orientation and mobility training in 2008 while I taught myself about assistive technology thanks to the CSUN Exhibit Halls, then meeting near LAX.


    Living in a “rural” “best place to retire”meant that I performed self-rehabilitation for my vision loss. Existing “blind centers” had closed and vision rehabilitation specialists moved to Tucson due to lack of referrals. Device re-sellers and low vision specialists came to town intermittently. While I was able to afford technology and to learn on my own, I’ve realized too few other area Vision Losers could cope as well. I began a concerted effort to collect links to resources and deliver demos of “Talking Assistive Technology” to an intermittent seminar on “Confident Living With Low Vision”.


    I hope to post more about the progress of a local grant at the Prescott Public Library, dubbed “You Too!”, launching in February 2018.

    Side Interests

  • Charles Bonnet Syndrome — A Public Service Announcement

    When Charles Bonet Comes Calling: A Public Service Announcement


    Here’s an experiment. Close your eyes and cover them until you see a blank screen. Your eyes may flicker a while then settle down. For some who are losing vision, sometimes this blank screen turns into a picture show. Our brains switch modes when our sight changes. We have a saying, “Charles Bonnet came calling!”


    The real Charles Bonnet was a natural scientist and philosopher in the 18th century. Bonnet studied his grandfather’s descriptions of animals and objects he “saw” despite dense cataracts. The name Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) stuck for two centuries, joining the medical vernacular in the 1980s.


    However, few people losing vision learn about the condition, or believe what they read — until CBS visits them. It’s hard to imagine what our brains are doing unless they “show their work”. That’s the theory behind CBS. The brain’s vision processing area is busy tracking movement in the external world then informing the rest of our brains for action and storage. When fewer visual signals flow through the optic nerve, the visual activity keeps going, looking for something to work on. Other parts of the brain supply memories and patterns that cause visual fantasies. Another description is that CBS is like “phantom limb”, only more entertaining!


    A person with CBS now has a little secret about those visual illusions. Does one tell? Do you fear that you’re on the dementia or mental illness trail? For most of us, the condition is transient, internal, and pleasurable. Some suffer if their illusions interact with their external world, like seeing chorus lines of dancing figures, extra people, snakes, etc. Misdiagnosis threatens as most mental health practitioners don’t have CBS on their symptom and causes lists. Reports tell of CBS leading patients through psychiatric wards and useless prescriptions. Eye doctors have trouble finding the right time to talk about something they haven’t experienced and cannot treat. CBS is an orphaned condition, yet rational and natural for enlightened Vision Losers.


    Are you ready to hear about my internal visual world?


    One evening, relaxing on my deck, three faces swirled into my line of sight. Having read about CBS, I welcomed my visitors. But, they weren’t what I expected. Each resembled the bust of a statue, gray, molded, with vague facial features, hairlines, silent, just there. But, none was identifiable in my memory gallery of real human faces. These abstract images hung around a while, then swirled back into darkness. I felt no other sensation, knew I was watching an illusion, and soon became accustomed to their coming and going.


    A more emotional person might have dubbed them spiritual guides, reincarnations, aliens, or calls to artistic pursuits. I was fine with the simple CBS explanation, not that I told anybody outside my online vision group. Later in this first phase, the heads dissolved into masks with big eyes and huge teeth that slowly melted away. By then I was identifying persons in real life by stature, voice, and guessing rather than facial features. For me, These abstract images were simply illusions welcomed back into my inner world.


    Next came another common CBS format, something graphical. I often saw a calendar like chart with one date bold and standing out, frustratingly unreadable. Sometimes I saw a page of justified text, blurred, with a caption, also illegible. This image brought a reverie back to my early career fifteen minutes of fame for finding embarrassing errors in a text justification program published by a famous, elegant European computer scientist. Our dinner in Denmark is another story.


    The graphical images were annoying when they blocked other vision and disrupted my thoughts. Blinking and rapid horizontal eye movement usually dispelled the graphics.


    All my images until then had been colorless. Months passed,with more vision loss, then appeared, and reappeared, a single realistic picture. A bright yellow tall notepad filled the image, with two fleshy pink hands writing as if adding a note. OMG, this must mean something I’ve forgotten to complete my life!


    So, here’s my Public Service Announcement, offered to vision support groups and occasional tweets:

    “Vision loss can lead to visual illusions that are harmless, incurable,and dissipate over time. Look up the condition called Charles Bonnet Syndrome, and enjoy its visits.”

    Notes:

    Sandwich Board Signs Are Dangerous!

    The Costs of Sandwich Board Advertising Signs


    1. Are wooden sandwich board signs dangerous? Are they safe when placed according to city code?
    2. Who pays if there’s an accident between a pedestrian and a sign? How much liability insurance is required of sign owners? How much liability insurance is apportioned to pedestrian accidents within the city budget?
    3. What is the cost/benefit to merchants? citizens? tourists?
      What is the risk/benefit to merchants? citizens? tourists?


    Submit your answers below:

    Accident report: Sandwich Board Sign Injures Pedestrians on Downtown Prescott Street, October 14 2016

    Deceased was walking along Whiskey Way on a nominal weather day using her mobility cane. A careless runner pushed through a crowd of children leaving their school. Several people bumped into each other, with a few falling down.


    Deceased attempted to step aside while untangling her cane from a sandwich board advertising sign. Such open wooden frame barriers are positioned approximately every 10 feet. Other pedestrians were also injured as signs broke apart or flattened on the sidewalk. A cascade of signs and bodies caused many additional falls.


    Deceased struck her head on a sharp sign edge and a second time as she fell onto the street, unconscious.


    Since the signs that caused injuries were legal under the city’s ordinance, no citations were issued. Liability remains to be determined. Lawsuits are expected against the city, merchants, and sign distributors. The careless runner has not been located, probably ducking into a local bar after the chaos, perhaps not even realizing its cause.


    Let’s prevent this accident from happening! Any pedestrian is vulnerable to unsafe signage, anywhere. And, about those saw horses and barriers that warn of unsafe pavement, they’re dangerous, too! Tell Prescott City Council to ban advertising sidewalk signs and fix sidewalks that need fixing.


    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
      safely

    • 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

    Terms

    • 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
    wishing…


    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.

    Vision What do Vision Losers want to know about technology?


    Hey, I’ve been off on a tangent from writing about adjusting to vision loss rather on a rant about and praise for website accessibility. Also absorbing my blogging efforts was a 2nd run of Sharing and Learning on the Social Web, a lifelong learning course. My main personal tutors remain the wise people of #a11y on Twitter and their endless supply of illuminating blog posts and opinions. You can track my fluctuating interests and activities on Twitter @slger123.

    To get back in action on this blog, I thought the WordPress stat search terms might translate into a sort of FAQ or update on what I’ve learned recently. Below are subtopics suggested by my interpretations of the terms people used to reach this blog. Often inaccurately, some people searching for tidbits on movies or books called ‘twilight’ might be surprised to read a review of the memories of an elder gent battling macular degeneration in the 1980s. Too bad, but there are also people searching for personal experience losing vision and on technology for overcoming limitations of vision loss. These folks are my target audience who might benefit from my ramblings and research. By the way, comments or guest posts would be very welcome..


    This post focuses on technology while the next post addresses more personal and social issues.

    Technology Theme: synthetic speech, screen readers software, eBooks, talking ATM

    Terms used to reach this blog

    • stuff for blind people
    • writing for screen readers
    • artificial digital voice mp3
    • non-visual reading strategies
    • book readers for people with legal blind
    • technology for people with a print-disability
    • apps for reading text
    • what are the best synthetic voices
    • maryanne wolf brain’s plasticity
    • reading on smart phones
    • disabled people using technology
    • synthetic voice of booksense
    • technology for legally blind students
    • audio reading devices
    • reading text application
    • synthetic speech in mobile device
    • the use of technology and loss of eyesight
    • installer of message turn into narrator

    NVDA screen reader and its voices

      Specific terms on NVDA reaching this blog:

    • NVDA accessibility review
    • voices for nvda
    • nvda windows screen reader+festival tts 1
    • videos of non visual desktop access
    • lag in screen reader speaking keys
    • nvda education accessibility

    Terminology: screen reader software provides audio feedback by synthetic voice to users operating primarily on a keyboard, announcing events, listing menus, and reading globs of text.


    How is NVDA progressing as a tool for Vision Losers?
    Very well with increased acceptance. NVDA (non Visual Desktop Access) is a free screen reader developing under an international project of innovative and energetic participants with support from Mozilla and Yahoo!. I use NVDA for all my web browsing and Windows work, although I probably spend more hours with nonPC devices like the Levelstar Icon for Twitter, email, news, RSS as well as bookSense and Bookport for reading and podcast listening. NVDA continues to be easy to install, responsive, gradually gaining capabilities like Flash and PDF, but occasionally choking from memory hog applications and heavy duty file transfers. Rarely do I think I’m failing from NVDA limitations but I must continually upgrade my skills and complaint about website accessibility (oops, there I go again). Go to:

    The voice issue for NVDA is its default startup with a free open source synthesizer called eSpeak. The very flexible youngsters living with TTS (text-to-speech) their whole lives are fine with this responsive voice which can be carried anywhere on a memory stick and adapted for many languages. However, oldsters often suffer from Synthetic voice shock” and run away from the offensive voices. Now devices like Amazon Kindle and the iPod/iTouch gadgets use a Nuance-branded voice quality between eSpeak and even more natural voices from Neo Speech, ATT, and other vendors. Frankly, this senior citizen prefers older robotic style voices for book reading especially when managed by excellent firmware like Bookport Classic from APH. Here’s the deal: (1) give eSpeak a chance then (2) investigate better voices available at Voice and TextAloud Store at Nextup.com. Look carefully at licensing as some voices work only with specific applications. The main thing to remember is that your brain can adapt to listening via TTS with some practice and then you’ll have a world of books, web pages, newspapers, etc. plus this marvelous screen reader.

    Apple Mania effects on Vision Losers

    Translation:What are the pro and con arguments for switching to Apple computers and handheld devices for their built in TTS?
    Good question. Screenless Switcher is a movement of visually impaired people off PCs to Macs because the latest Mac OS offers VoiceOver text-to-speech built in. Moreover, the same capabilities are available on the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad, with different specific voices. Frankly, I don’t have experience to feel comfortable with VoiceOver nor knowledge of how many apps actually use the built-in capabilities. I’m just starting to use an iTouch (iPod Touch) solely for experimentation and evaluation. So far, I haven’t got the hang of it, drawing my training from podcasts demonstrating iPhone and iTouch. Although I consider myself skilled at using TTS and synthetic speech, I have trouble accurately understanding the voice on the iTouch, necessary to comfortably blend with gesturing around a tiny screen and, gulp, onscreen keyboard. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here as I need enough apps and content to make the iTouch compelling to gain usage fluency but need more fluency and comfort to get the apps that might hook me. In other words, I’m suffering from mild synthetic voice shock compounded by gesture shyness and iTunes overload.


    My biggest reservation is the iTunes strong hold on content and apps because iTunes is a royal mess and not entirely accessible on Windows, not to mention wanting to sell things I can get for free. Instead of iTunes, I get my podcasts in the Levelstar Icon RSS client and move them freely to other devices like the Booksense. Like many others with long Internet experrience, such as RSS creator and web tech critic Dave Winer, I am uncomfortable at Apple’s controlling content and applications and our very own materials, limiting users to consumers and not fostering their own creativity. Could I produce this blog on an iPad? I don’t know. Also, Apple’s very innovative approach to design doesn’t result in much help to the web as a whole where everybody is considered competitors rather than collaborators for Apple’s market share. Great company and products, but not compelling to me. The Google OS Android marketplace is more open and will rescue many apps also developed for Apple products but doesn’t seem to be yet accessible at a basic level or in available apps. Maybe 2010 is the year to just listen and learn while these devices and software and markets develop while I continue to live comfortably on my Windows PC, Icon Mobile Manager and docking station, and book readers. Oh, yeah, I’m also interested in Gnome accessibility, but that’s a future story.

    The glorious talking ATM

    Terms used to reach this blog

    • talking ATM instructions
    • security features for blind in ATM


    What could be more liberating than to walk up to a bank ATM and transact your business even if you cannot see the screen? Well, this is happening many locations and is an example for the next stage of independence: store checkout systems. Here’s my experience. Someone from the bank or experienced user needs to show you where and how to insert your card and ear buds plug. After that the ATM should provide instructions on voice adjustment and menu operations. You won’t be popular if you practice first time at a busy location or time of day, but after that you should be as fast as anybody fumbling around from inside a car or just walking by. Two pieces of advice: (1) pay particular attention to CANCEL so you can get away gracefully at any moment and (2) always remove ear buds before striding off with your cash. I’ve had a few problems: an out of paper or mis-feed doesn’t deliver a requested receipt, the insert card protocol changed from inline and hold to insert and remove, an unwanted offer of a credit card delayed transaction completion, and it’s hard to tell when a station is completely offline. I’ve also dropped the card, sent my cane rolling under a car, and been recorded in profanity and gestures by the surveillance camera. My biggest security concern, given the usual afternoon traffic in the ATM parking lot, is the failure to eject or catch a receipt, which I no longer request. But overall, conquering the ATM is a great step for any Vision Loser. It would also work for MP3 addicts who cannot see the screen on a sunny day.

    Using WordPress</h4

    Terms:

      >

    • Wordpress blogging platform accessibility >

    • wordpress widget for visual impaired

    Translation: (1) Does WordPress have a widget for blog readers with vision impairments, e.g. to increase contrast or text size? (2) Does WordPress editing have adjustments for bloggers with vision impairment?


    (2) Yes, ‘screen settings’ provides alternative modes of interaction, e.g. drag and drop uses a combo to indicate position in a selected navigation bar. In general, although each blog post has many panels of editing, e.g. for tags, title, text, visibility, etc. these are arranged in groups often collapsed until clicked for editing, if needed. Parts of the page are labeled with headings (yay, H2, H3,…) that enable a blog writer with a screen reader to navigate rapidly around the page. Overall, good job, WordPress!


    However, (1) blog reader accessibility is a bit more problematic. My twitter community often asks for the most accessible theme but doesn’t seem to converge on an answer. Using myself as tester, I find WordPress blogs easy to navigate by headings and links using the NVDA screen reader. But I’m not reading by eyesight so cannot tell how well my own blog looks to either sighted people or ones adjusting fonts and contrasts. Any feedback would be appreciated, but so far no complaints. Frankly, I think blogs as posts separated by headings are ideal for screen reading and better than scrolling if articles are long, like mine. Sighted people don’t grok the semantics of H2 for posts, h3, etc. for subsections, etc. My pet peeve is themes that place long navigation sidebars *before* the contnent rather than to the right. When using a screen reader I need to bypass these and the situation is even worse when the page downloads as a post to my RSS clinet. So, recommendation on WordPress theme: 2 column with content preceding navigation, except for header title and About.

    Books. iBooks, eBooks, Kindle, Google Book Search, DAISY, etc.

    Terms

    • kindle+accessibility
    • how to snapshot page in google book
    • is kindle suitable for the visually impaired?
    • how to unlock books “from kindle” 1
    • is a kindle good for partially blind peo 1
    • access ability of the kindle

    I’ll return to this broad term of readers and reading in a later post. Meantime, here’s an Nytimes Op article on life cycle and ecosystem costs of print and electronic books. My concern is that getting a book into one’s sensory system, whether by vision or audio, is only the first step in reading any material. I’m working on a checklist for choices and evaluation of qualities of reading. More later.

    Searching deeper into Google using the Controversy Discovery Engine

    You know how the first several results from a Google search are often institutions promoting products or summaries from top ranked websites? These are often helpful but even more useful, substantive, and controversial aspects may be pushed far down in the search list pages. There’s a way to bring these more analytic pages to the surface by easily extending the search terms with words that rarely appear in promotional articles, terms that revolve around controversy and evidence. Controversy Discovery engine assists this expanded searching. Just type in the term as you would to Google and choose from one or both lists of synonym clusters to add to the term. The magic here is nothing more than asking for more detailed and analytic language in the search results. You are free to download this page to your own desktop to avoid any additional tracking of search results through its host site and to have it available any time or if you want to modify its lexicon of synonyms.
    Some examples:

    1. “print disability” + dispute
    2. “legally blind” + evidence Search
    3. “NVDA screen reader” + research Search
    4. “white cane” + opinion Search
    5. “Amazon Kindle” accessibility + controversy Search

      Feedback would be much appreciated if you find this deeper search useful.

      Adjustment themes: canes, orientation and mobility, accessibility advocacy, social media, voting, resilience, memories, …

      Coming in next post!

    Could TTS news reading beat Kindle and smart phones?

    This post responds to concerns in ComputingEd post ‘Kindles versus Smart phones: Age matters, testing matters’. A UGa study and commentary focus on news reading as screen-dependant and vision-only. I suggest considering the print-disabled TTS-dependant ecosystem to expand understanding of human reading and assistive device capabilities.

    Reading experiments might be broadened to include pure TTS, i.e. no screens. But first, what criteria matter: reading rate, absorption level; device comfort, simulated print experience, distribution costs and convenience,..?


    For the record, I just read this article by RSS, then switched to my Newstand, downloaded NYTimes and other papers from Bookshare.org, cooperating with NFB Newsline, and news companies I gratefully thank. Papers are delivered wirelessly in XML-based DAISY format, retrieved and read on a Linux-powered mobile device (Levelstar Icon), spoken in an old-style “robotic voice”. For delivery efficiency and cost, this cannot be beat and I think I absorb selective news reading better than ever. But how is experience of print-disabled news readers factored into comparisons like this article?


    This will soon be relevant if Kindle, iPod/iTouch, etc. TTS reading is fully enabled and adopted by some readers from proprietary delivery systems, like Amazon. For proper evaluation, it will be necessary to compare eReading by TTS on mainstream devices to that provided by evolved readers like APH book port, Humanware Victor Reader Stream, PlexTalk Pocket, Levelstar Icon, and (my favorite) GW Micro booksense. Also important is the media format, currently favored as DAISY on these devices. And finally is the provision of media, currently limited legally to print-disabled readers, as by NFB (National Federation of Blind) and non-profit Bookshare.org. In other words, there’s another ecosystem of reading open only to print-disabled that might benefit those attracted to eReading.


    Oh, my, here’s the “universal design” mantra again. ‘Reading news by screen’ is, of course, more limited than ‘reading by print or audio”. It’s possible than for some reading criteria the screen-free mode or open XML-based format and its reading devices and experienced reader population may beat mainstream strategies!


    Could these experiments be performed? Certainly, most universities have students who currently, or could, offer their experience with equipment provided through Disability Services. Fact quizzes and comprehension tests might raise questions about how our reading brains work and how well our reading devices and formats help or hinder. What research is in progress? Is there a CS agenda for this social and economic ecosystem? Why do people think reading is a vision-only activity? Ok, comics, photos, and crosswords are a bit challenging, but plain old print is so well handled by TTS. Let’s open our eyes and ears and fingers to a fuller range of capabilities. I would love to be a test subject for eReading experiments.

    The 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

    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

    My Accessibility Check: Images and their Surrogates


    This post is part of a series on my experiences with web accessibility. Each post condenses what I’ve learned from before and after as a real-life Vision Loser continuing 30 years of Internet use and as a new student of accessibility theory and practice. Sighted readers will learn a bit more about how a low vision persons uses the web and other Vision Losers may sense some of the rationale behind the annotation of graphics.

    Why are ALT tags Rule #1 of web accessibility


    Ok, so web pages are inherently visually motivated to exploit the power of browsers and graphic images to convey information to users. But does that mean that images can be used freely, for either decorative or information roles, without the slightest indication of their purpose on a page? Wouldn’t that be cruel to people without vision? Of course! And with increase in use of mobile devices with smaller screens, images may also be problematic for sighted people. And browsing without images showing remains common where bandwidth is limited by availability or cost. Hence, providing surrogates for images acquired the primary position in accessibility rule making.


    Web standards make it implicit that web content should be perceivable necessitating alternative textual descriptions of graphics. That implementation of this rule is dead simple, to write a description as an accompaniment, denoted by the HTML identifier ALT.

    Are ALT tags simple and easy to use?


    Well, yes, it’s easy to add such tags. Creating web pages the power user way, with a Notepad, one adds ALT=”the description” to accompany the location , denoted by SRC, of the image. No big deal, but what would the description say? the color of the image? ithe who or where? the artful ambience? The trick here is that the ALT description should give exactly the information needed to place the image usefully in the context of the page, no more, and no less. Ouch, that requires thinking, like why have the image in the first place and what’s its role in the narrative of the page, in addition to attracting eyes and stimulating visual cortexes?


    And, wouldn’t you know it, there are more messy questions as described in Web Accessibility Gone Wild from webaim.org. some images are purely decorative and some are used for layout of the page, neither of which require a real ALT description, which would only get in the way of screen readers. And there are charts and graphs where the data displayed is integral to the point of the web page. And some images just take a lot of words to describe. Furthermore, images are often associated with links where the descriptions overlap. Happily, the above article provides good commen sense practices for these situations.

    Examples of Accessibility Issues for ALT and images


    Images without ALT tags are often cited as “obstacles for the unsighted”, but this Vision Loser has only one experience like this. As described in previous post on “pie charts and literacy” inability to read a pie chart may have doomed my retirement funds during an analysis by my ‘Wealth Manager’. Not really, we’re all doomed, but inability to read the pie chart of asset allocations was a real bummer for me. The problem here is not so much that the pie slice relative sizes and labels were unavailable in a PDF document, but that I could not get my hands into the original data. Pie charts are not so much images as representations of data that stimulate questions about relationships within that data. I am still looking for the pie chart I can manipulate to get those relationships out of the data imprisoned in documents.


    Generally, it does help to have image descriptions like ““bicyclists using curb cut in complex intersection” to force my brain into thinking about physical locations and moving objects. But rarely do I find the absence of a good description as a barrier to understanding the content of a page. With low vision myself, I don’t have much practice using images and ALT text, requiring a sighted helper to assure images are what they say.


    On the other hand, now that I’m an accessibility advocate, it is annoying to find violations of Rule #1 because this may show a rather serious ignorance of or callousness toward accessibility. I recently found this in a left unnamed output of an NSF project on Broadening Participation in Computing. An excellent project to entice student interest in computing through a journalist pathway produced a newsletter with articles illustrated by images that read out to me as “497” and “2934”. All I could think of was a missed opportunity to raise the awareness of student authors about accessibility issues, like “how would your great-grandpa’s bad eyes read this page?” Our tax dollars should be properly used only when results are fully accessible. But don’t get me started on university and professional organization web sites!

    What next for ALT?


    Of course, there’s more to graphic media with Flash and animation. But the message of ALT seems to be:

    1. Leave off ALT tags if you want to put up a clear “No blind need apply” sign to your visiting potential clients and students.
    2. Put in the time thinking and checking out your web pages for image usefulness. Turn off images in your browser and see what’s missed. Do images still matter? Are they well supplemented by ALT descriptions?
    3. Decorative images may be vestigial ways of thinking about getting column 2 of text to start at position 43 when that’s going to interfere with text sizing requirements or be bungled in one or another browser. Or, even worse, really stupid cases are when a screen reader reads out “spacer, spacer” between words, indicating you didn’t know how to or care to test with a screen reader.