Posts Tagged ‘vision loss’

Story: A Screen Reader Salvages a Legacy System

October 30, 2009

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

Grandpa Dave’s Story

From: Dave Mack
To: nvda

Date: Oct 29

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


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


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

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


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


Grandpa Dave in California

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

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


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

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Resilience: Bouncing Back from Vision Loss

June 28, 2009

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

Great!! Twitter has Less to See, More to Say and Hear.

April 22, 2009

This post relates my experiences using the micro-blogging system “twitter”. For once, accessibility issues drift into the background and the educational, emotional, and entertainment aspects of the technology engage me in the social media movement. In summary, an undisciplined person can fritter away mountains of time on molehills of information that pop up in the Twitter landscape created by following choices. However, a person with self-directed interests can find bubbling brooks of content pointers and insights with occasional gold nuggets never otherwise revealed. An alternative title might be “Does Twitter make me fitter? or flitter?”

Please, please, explain twitter

First, what’s the “twitter model” of information flow? Blogs have gained popularity because individuals believe their special interests and expertise attract like-minded readers who can contribute feedback and merge to reach higher goals. Let’s admit that it takes courage to make that first blogging step whether for business survival or personal growth. Twitter concentrates the writing and reading into 140 characters per message, roughly a headline, topic sentence, or link reference. The underlying technology builds on the Publish-Subscribe model that you put your information someplace, others find its location, assess its quality and relevance, then add the location to automated systems, dubbed “clients”, to fetch the latest messages. The Twitter lingo is that you “follow” somebody, others “follow” you, and Twitter central facilitates the broadcast of messages by allowing clients to send and receive messages, including its own website twitter.com. The power of twitter also comes from distributing following-follower lists, enabling, in computational thinking terms, symmetric and “transitive relationships”, where “I follow X ho follows Y who follows Z” and “oh, look, A is following me, looks interesting, so I’ll follow A who also follows B, etc.”.

How does a person, sighted or not, use twitter?

Accessibility issues are minimized to only getting past the account sign-up anti-spam CAPTCHA image or audio at twitter.com. since the main functions of using twitter are inputting 140 or fewer characters and links or buttons to handle following activation, user interfaces are simple, non-visual, and enabled by an API (Application Programming Interface) at Twitter Central.


I use two twitter clients. The Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager Version 2 software provides basic capabilities for sending messages, updating the so-called “tweet roll” of messages from people I follow, as well as checking out my followers and followees by profiles and thei follow contexts. A web interface Accessible Twittter.com applies many principles for making web pages easily usable with a screen reader. Another useful interface, Mobile Twitter offers a spreadsheet look, good for fooling bosses and quick to read.

So, how does one get started in twitter?

After getting my account, Twitter Central showed me some highly followed people, one of whom I knew by name, Slate journalist John Dickerson. Then I thought up people I respected from blogs, podcasts, and books, adding Jon Udell, John Batelle, W. David Stevenson, Danah Boyd, Francine Hardaway, and Denise Howell. That gave me a well-rounded expansion of people whom I respected and could trust to follow worthy thinkers and doers. At some point, I believe centered on Accessible Twitter creator Dennis Lembrée of WebAxe podcast brought me into transitive and cyclic lineages of accessibility gurus. Fortuitously, these folks were organizing a “tweetup at CSUN accessibility conference and I was quickly following a few dozen people I didn’t know who were building a community for sharing their blog writings, insights, complaints, and traveling.


On the other side, now with my own account, I had to figure out what to say, personal and professional, more later on this dilemma.

Why twitter makes me fitter

My take on “social media” is that individuals in society need to both maintain their past affiliated relationships, like co-workers, while expanding their options and facilitating personal growth. This gets very interesting when generations, genders, and interests cross traditional social boundaries. My selection of people to follow has one common criterion: independent thinkers, solo proprietors, those who “own their minds” with any company affiliation in the background. I care not a wit for any organizational tricks or complaints. Messages from such people are often like “well, here’s this great insight, but nobody here to tell, except the cat/dog, a good mid-afternoon tweet treat for myself”. More often I see the straightforward “worth reading to learn X, here’s the link”. For me, as receiver, this adds up to a dozen or so tabs and web pages lined up in my browser, kind of a morning clipping service. Since I’m learning about accessibility and assistive technology, I’m getting a daily reading list and lessons from experts whom I trust to know what’s important.


The cross-generational aspects of twitter are fascinating. In physical life, I attend lifelong learning courses and book clubs where, at age 66, I’m often one of the younger members, so story telling extends back before WW II and parents in the Depression (the previous one). Not surprisingly, one sometimes hears grumbling about “those kids and their toys”, which I also co-exist with at home. On twitter, I’m an elder lurker, used to being the invisible older woman, trying to inject my own decades of experience, expecting little interest — “who cares about email in the 1970s?”.


Also intriguing is the cross-over of geographical and technical interests, e.g. learning about Jon Udell’s “Calendar Curation” project, including nitty-gritty technical things I can still understand, if not perform. I also keep up on electronic publishing, government data,Arizona entrepreneurs, and general technology, almost anything except boring past professional organizations and hard to find local connections.


To cite one of those nuggets of gold, my tweet role is currently filled with reports of the Trends at a European conference on accessibility for the Aging. Just hearing the stream of topics provides the collage of technical and social concerns, while I register mentally those slides I want to peruse for my recurring theme posting on vision loss, including advice for care-givers.

How does twitter make me flitter?

One thing I do get better at with age is managing my energy level. The rules are simple. “Add a follower, measure whether you’re at a limit of time or interest, demote something”. Also recognize “context switching takes energy, so confine contexts to current interest”. In other words, you cannot keep up with everything, so must, always, be trimming back. This gets harder when you must delete yourself as a follower of a person you like but don’t need. Sadly, hey, if I have to keep skipping or reading tweets I dislike or don’t care about, I’m soon going to disregard that person, so better drop this relationship sooner. Snip, see you later.


I’m luckily immune to most pop culture, but occasionally do need a dash of heart tugging or mockery or irritation. Ok, I confess, I couldn’t tell you one thing about American Idol but I’m compelled to keep up with Britain talent Susan Boyle phenomenon. Those judges smirking at her age and looks, telling her they’d laughed at her, gets my feminism and ageism ire going. But seeing somebody have a lifetime high moment, and do a fantastic performance, well, that makes me feel ever so human. Don’t tell me the show is rigged.

Twitter for the Vision Loser

I hope you’ve now seen that Twitter is a great match with needs of this Vision Loser, maybe others.

  1. With a text-based technology, there are no complex interfaces to master. Indeed Accessible Twitter is designed with the best practices to streamline reading and writing in Twitter.

  2. The twitter user world, millions of people with varied interests, offer a mixed blend of personal, professional, and avocational content. Find the people you like, the people they like, and you can be on the fringes of ongoing conversations to deepen and broaden your interests. Yes, this is like over-hearing art experts discussing a portrait in a gallery, but what’s wrong with that?

  3. Most charitable organizations are now on twitter, e.g. Red Cross, Lions Club, NFB, etc. Vision-related advocacy cropped in the
    Amazon Kindle publisher guild petitions and protest. VisionAware and Fred’s Head from APH offer a steady diet of news about vision related topics and assistive technology. And this VisionLoser formed her own self-study of the accessibility field from trickle down tweets.

  4. Step out yourself by replying to tweets when you know something relevant. That’s one way to gain followers and enter the community. And start your own follower-ship by invitation and productive posting.

  5. Pay no attention to the million-follower celebrity races unless you dig playing their games. You can find your own playground and make your own acquaintances. And, ugly words like “friend
    “, as in somebody’s name added to a list, is cultural inanity. However, real relationships do build over time by reading blog or twitter thoughts.
    But oh, that very first tweet, like any “first”, can be scary. The prompt is “What are you doing?” which can be translated into now, right this moment? today’s big challenges? for the rest of my life? You can start out personal or think for 2 days, but probably nobody cares either way. In a month or so, you develop your own rhythm and style of posting. That’s where personal growth comes in, as you discover what matters enough to post or withhold, how to condense a though into 140 characters, and integrate twitter information flows into your reading and learning. Twitter is seductive, like writing a journal, and evaluating your goals and progress.

  6. Suppose you succumb to “twitter fritter” and waste scads of time with little return? We all have that problem and need to find our own self-control mechanisms. For me, this is an internalalization of battery drain with intellectual and emotional energy signaling the value of certain communications. Another problem is privacy concern, since you’re giving away your whereabouts and daily routine, but that’s part of what we have given up for a technological society, or formerly living in a small village.

  7. Here are a few general readings:

Follow me on Twitter at slger123

Lessons from 2008 ‘As your world changes’

December 31, 2008

This list compiles postings from 2008 as my Lessons Learned.

Progress in adjusting to vision loss

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

  9. Use better information for medical opinions Controversy Discovery Engine

Community Interactions

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

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

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

Information for Computing Professionals

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

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

Actions and Follow up

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

Best Stuff found in 2008

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

Links to blog postings


  1. Thinking about Risks blog Permalink
    December 2008


  2. Accessible voting worked blog Permalink
    November 2008


  3. Using the Curb Cuts Principle blog Permalink
    October 2008


  4. Literacy blog Permalink
    September 2008


  5. Voting Without Viewing blog Permalink
    August 2008


  6. Synthetic Voice Shock blog Permalink
    July 2008


  7. Hyperlinks Considered Harmful blog PermalinkJuly 2008


  8. Controversy Discovery Engine for Medical Opinions
    June 2008


  9. Technology for nonVisual Reading blog Permalink
    June 2008


  10. Writing by Listening blog Permalink
    May 2008


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


  12. Intuit against High Contrast blog Permalink
    March 2008


  13. ‘Hear me stumble’ blog Permalink March 2008



  14. Killer App for Accessibility blog Permalink
    January 2008


  15. Prescott Visually Impaired Services blog Permalink
    January 2008

All posts for 2008 — HTML and audio

Thinking about Blindness, Risks, and Safety Trade-offs

December 2, 2008

Facing safety trade-offs through risk management


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


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

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

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

“Live annually on 4% of your assets”.

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

Housing payment not to exceed 1/3 Income.

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


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

Background from Software risk management


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


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

Risk analysis for my workout/relaxation walk


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

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

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

    <Indicators<:Strong winds, thunder, glare ice

    <likelihood<: 8, with walks during

    <Severity<: 9, people do get whacked

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

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

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

  2. Event: Trip over something

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

    <likelihood<: 5,

    <Severity<: 6

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

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

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

  3. Event: Hit by some vehicle

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

    <likelihood<: 5

    <Severity<: 7

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

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

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

  4. Event: Getting lost

    <Indicators<Unfamiliar houses, pavements, in intersections

    <likelihood< 1,

    <Severity<: 1

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

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

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

  5. Event: Cardiac attack

    <Indicators<: frequent stops, pain, heavy breathing

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

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

    <Mitigation Actions and costs:<

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

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

Risk Management Summary

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

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

References on Risks

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

Aren’t we Vision Losers lucky?

July 28, 2007

Aren’t we lucky? Just when our vision starts to deteriorate on us, there comes a whole new medium of information, entertainment, and inspiration opening up to fill our ears, and our years. This new medium is called "podcasting" but you will not need an ipod, not even ear buds, just your PC, speakers, and audio player, which probably come with the package. Add one piece of additional free software, called a podcatcher, and you’ve entered a new world. One theme in this blog is the full utilization of the podcasting medium for the benefit of Vision Losers of a certain age.

Who are this so-called ‘we’, the lucky ones, the generalization of the singular self-styled Vision Loser? who is this blog written for?


Well, there are literally millions of over-50 people with variations of macular degeneration and other forms of retinopathy who retain partial sight, enough to operate most software packages, on a decent vision day, albeit somewhat more clumsy than the multi-tasking, keyboard-glued, Internet-addicted younger generations. Many of us have been using computers for work, for communication, and for gaming for years, while some of us are newbies to the Internet and the PC world. Our ranks are growing rapidly with the baby boomer generation. Plus, others who care about the well-being of those losing vision.


The lucky ones are those who can take full advantage of a low-cost, vibrant, versatile, varied, stimulating medium especially helpful for those in vision loss transition. That’s our main message: use the podcasting medium to supplant print-based activities and to introduce yourself to the technology, people, and philosophy of the parallel world of the partially sighted and fully blind.


The quality of life we address in this blog are the "partially sighted" who have lost some significant properties of vision: contrast, color, print discrimination, or steady lines of objects. More challenging are normal abilities to read, drive, converse with facial and body awareness, Gone are many energy-saving and safety-providing actions formerly taken for granted. Being partially sighted is far different from being completely blind because the world is continually playing tricks on you, luring you to "see” but denying you all the details in your partial sight, you live with the shape shifter and Trickster archetypes.


Meanwhile, strangers, colleagues and friends and family cannot recognize your problems because, quote, you "do not look blind" — whatever that means. You are perfectly capable of absorbing and giving information through digital media, but at a loss to sort the mail and read important matters without adaptive technology. You need some help, but maybe not the full-blown, costly equipment avai able to the fully blind.


One way to appreciate this quality of life — both the losses and retained skills — is listening to podcasts by people dealing with their losses in similar situations. Aren’t we lucky that we can find and follow the inspiration of such people, without stretching our personal limits of energy and mobility? This blog will take you through a tangle of podcasts to place ourselves in a virtual crowd of like-abled people.


With our partial sight, we can avail ourselves of many PC packages with only a modest additional expense and some self-training.We clearly have one foot in the blind camp where many software vendors offer custom products, but at an expense that is often borne by employers, rehab offices, and educational systems. Being of a more advanced aged, perhaps out of the work force, some of us struggle with many trade-offs of finance, training, and frustration less faced by those with no options, like the blind. But it turns out there is a rich suite of relatively low cost packages on the market which this blog seeks to motivate and explain individually and together.


The trick is to think as a "system integrator” who identifies tasks, and processes, and quality factors then finds components that work together to provide a high enough level of productivity and quality of getting our work and our fun under control. These include text-to-speech readers of web, mail, and other documents; partial screen readers: that guide us around software tools on our screen; and magnifiers that zoom in on smudges of print we want to see but not hear.


Aren’t we lucky, that vendors have found a large enough market of people like us, or with similar needs, to produce tools we can integrate into our environments? Aren’t we lucky that a few years ago breakthroughs in speech synthesis have given us voices that resonate in personality while they clearly read for us? Aren’t we lucky that podcasting came along to give us access to many product reviews, demonstrations, and testimonials?


This blog describes a combination of free and low-cost products that can launch a Vision Loser into a more effective, still familiar, way of using our PCs. And one of these software products is a podcatcher customized for partially sighted people.


But, isn’t it strange, that we Vision Losers might have the advantage of early adoption of speech interactions with our software while the fully sighted remain with their eyeballs glued to their screens? In technology transfer terms, we can be as geeky as we like as “early adopters” while many software products are simple enough to master for those without a "geek streak”. This blog discusses many of these download-install-try and adopt or discard packages. We demonstrate that some added functionality here and a better interface there and, with practice, we can remain cost effectively fully functioning in the networked world.


What else does podcasting have to offer vision losers? While we are using podcasts to learn about technology to exploit our partial sight, we hear the inspiring words of Vision Losers like us, across a spectrum of losses. More than that, we can see how podcasts can fill the information voids caused by difficulty reading print magazines and newspapers. We will find a generation of communicators, both younger and older, using podcasts to develop a style and outlets for their cultural, humor, and intellectual interests. The early podcasters are entrepreneurial, energetic, and often fresh figures to replace TV fixtures and columnists we may have been using for years to structure our own views of the world.

Aren’t we lucky so many independent and creative individuals offer us a new way to explore and absorb a very wide world beyond our screens and speakers? We will find that podcasting offers a way to design your own stream of content geared toward your own information and entertainment needs and time available. And it is amazing how much more you can get done listening to podcasts than watching a tube or unfolding and refolding a newspaper?


Aren’t we lucky, that we have a medium so well matched to our needs, so flexible, and so cheap?


We began this blog by describing a PC environment that may help many Vision Losers with little expense or effort, namely a few synthetic voices, an application, that reads from the clipboard, and the minimal functionality of magnifiers supplied by the Microsoft XP (and other) Windows environments with an add-on mouse. We have also been using podcasts as references in earlier articles, just requiring a PC invoked with the click of a link to a .mp3 player. We’ll soon move on to harder trade-offs with other screen readers, editors, and podcatchers that bring out a tendency to collect podcasts.


No, it is not great to be a Vision Loser; in fact, it’s a very hard life with more of the same and worse for life’s remaining decades. But, really, the confluence of assistive technology, opening of independent media through podcasting and blogs, and the challenge to learn and use these as rapidly as possible during vision descent leads to the significant conclusion: Contemporary Vision Losers have timed their transition well to take advantage of technology never before available, not robbing the bank account, and poised to become one more node in a vast network of audio driven information and human connection.


As we write this blog we draw from a library of podcasts collected on vision-related topics and by and for blind and partially sighted individuals. Check this out in the blogroll and
@Podder Eyesight Podcast Library

Listen to an audio version of this posting