Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Field of Dreams

During my time as a Development Officer at the Lighthouse, I began to hear a phrase that goes like this, “Technology levels the playing field for people who are visually impaired.” It was a pretty good sound bite, impressive to those unknowing. Unfortunately, it simply was not true. The field was totally out of whack.

Eight years later, I can say that the field is getting a little more level every day and tomorrow when the US Congress votes on, and passes, The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 (a.k.a. HR 3101), I will feel the earth move.

It seems a bit dreamy, but here is what H.R. 3101 proposes to do:

1. Restore and expand requirements for video description of television programs, in addition to requiring cable companies to make their program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss;

2. Mandate mobile phone companies to make web browsers, text messaging, and e-mail on smart phones fully accessible;

3. Require television distributors to ensure captioning of programs when also shown on the Internet;*Allow users of different forms of telecommunications relay services to connect with each other;

4. Require smart phones to be hearing aid compatible;

5. Ensure people with vision loss have access to emergency broadcast information;

6. Provide $10 million in funding each year for assistive technology for deaf-blind individuals;

7. Improve enforcement of disability accessibility communications complaints.

COAT (the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology), which Lighthouse International is a member, took the lead on this important legislative effort. I love a good coalition.

I am told, by a reliable source, that they have enough votes to pass this bill, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed anyway.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Testing 1, 2, 3

As I was preparing to record a podcast for the Macular Degeneration Support Group I was deep in the grips of the very subject I was speaking about --- Technophobia. There is a limit to the amount of new technology that I can deal with in any given timeframe, before I go over the edge. I was teetering.

I was told it was “easy” to set up and connect to the conferencing program that would record my podcast online. Sure -- it is. I listened, followed instructions, clicked here, and clicked there to no avail. Then I called in a good pair of eyes, and a better brain or two. Still it was not happening.

The stress was mounting, my neck was tense, heart racing, temperature soaring. No less than six people were involved when the discovery was made --- the microphone attached to my headphones was not working. And, that was the only headset with a microphone in the building.

It was hard to believe how difficult it could be to do something “easy.” I kept telling myself, “There has got to be a better way!”

The answer came to me when I pressed the home button on my phone to check the time. I could record this podcast with the Voice Memo app on my iPhone. Yes I can!

And, yes I did. Take a listen to my podcast “Facing Technophobia.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Talk to Me (More)

My friend GM, (introduced in “No Comment”), sent several comments to me this week via email. He was responding to a post from a month ago titled “Talk to Me,” in which I was looking for some (hands-on) user experience with speech recognition programs that can operate a computer without sight, without a mouse, and without full use of the keyboard. The question was precipitated by another friend, Ben, who had been using an assistive technology program called “Guide” and was now hoping to find something better.

GM wrote:
“Dorrie, if the answer is anywhere it ought to be known at lighthouse.
Where should we look? Have you Googled it? Quizzed other Lighthouses? The AT community?”

My reply:
Yes GM, there you have it in a nutshell. If the answer was known at Lighthouse or Google, I would not be writing a post about the problem; I would be sharing the solution (with glee).

GM wrote:
“I asked around and got these replies;
Michael McCarty at APHB wrote: I know that with J-Say, one can speak to the computer and control it and use JAWS at the same time. I’ve heard of this being done, never have watched it myself, but folks say it does work. Only problem I know of is that the program is rather expensive.Ike Presley at AFB said much the same”

My reply:
Yes, I’ve heard as well, but this is an expensive solution (about $3,000) for someone trained in the use of JAWS screen reading software. For the rest of us, it is no solution, at all.
GM wrote:
”The VA is using Guide.”

My reply:
Well GM, this is what Oprah would call “a full circle moment.” We are right back where we started.

Thanks GM, lets’ not give up – one day soon when we are looking for something else – the answer will inevitably arrive.