Thursday, December 15, 2011

Grand Central Through My Eyes

New York's Grand Central is the largest train station in the world (according to Wikipedia). Step inside this terminal and there is no denying it's grandeur, it's beauty, it's history. And sometimes you also must acknowledge --- it's insanity.

Last Friday evening during the maddest of Grand Central's rush hours I was joined by three graduate students from NYU's Journalism Institute. Laura Edwins, Tracy Levy, and Nadja Popovich worked like true professionals filming my sometimes awkward journey through the high anxiety of Grand Central --- on low vision.

Their objective: to report on an often "under covered or overlooked topic."
My objective to bring attention to the little things that could make a big difference --- for everyone!

Watch the video "Grand Central Through Other Eyes" now.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Get Me to an Xbox

Never did I think I would be interested in Xbox ---- until now. The New York Times reported Microsoft’s Xbox Live entertainment service will allow subscribers to access television and video content right from their Xbox 3600 console.

Okay, so that’s nice, but not enough to get me on an Xbox.

I continue to read and learn you can search for the programming you want with Voice Commands. Yes, that’s right; just tell your Xbox what you want to watch – verbally.

Apparently I am not the only one having difficulty operating (the now almost archaic) remote control and cable programming guides. The clunky old cable box may soon be an antiquity.

“In a demonstration of the technology last week at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Michael Suraci, director of marketing for Xbox Live, told an Xbox to “Bing Sandra Bullock,” which promptly found “The Blind Side,” “Crash” and several other movies starring the actress that were available through various sources of video on Xbox Live.”

“Mr. Suraci also used a sequence of voice commands to switch to an app for Verizon’s FiOS TV, within which he could flip among live channels by using more voice commands or a swiping motion with his hands.”

Now I have one very important question. Does it talk back?

Read the New York Times article:
“Xbox Live Challenges Cable Box”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Next Stop SoHo

Good things come to those who wait.

Apple SoHo is about to host it's own accessibility event.

What: Accessibility Out of the Box
Where: 72 Greene Street, New York City, NY 10012
When: Tuesday, November 29th at 4pm - 5:30pm

I'll be there and I will be joining two other speakers to share some of the ways we use Apple's Accessibility in our daily life.

See you there!

Friday, November 18, 2011

It’s Not You George, It’s Me

George pointed out to me earlier this week that the formatting of my blog looked strange to him. He mentioned something about a “style sheet” and ‘word wrap,”but I do not know what he is talking about. I call a colleague and ask him what this means and he tells me to tell George it’s not my blog, it’s his browser. As I am about to relieve myself of all responsibility, my colleague calls back to say there is indeed something funky about the way my last blog post (Out of the Box Again) looks. He thinks I may have posted it inside a table.

I dread the thought of even looking at it, so I don’t. I go through Blogger instead and attempt to edit it. Easier said then done. Copying and pasting does not work, only a few sentences come through. I go back to the original draft and copy it to repost, but this one wipes out all of my carefully embedded hyperlinks. While trying to restore the links I hit the enter key and somehow accidentally publish the messy draft.

The erroneous posting is published with no links and with my notes exposed at the end. Each time I edit a post it gets posted to Facebook (and maybe Twitter) over and over again and I have no clue how to stop it.

I decided to give it one more go and fixed the post and published it. I hope you'll forgive me George, it still looks different and I'm just going to have to let it be.

Does this have to be so difficult -- really?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Out of the Box Again (Again)

Good things deserve repeating. That’s why Apple West 14th Street last night hosted “Accessibility Out of the Box“ for the second time. This time I was invited to take part in a panel discussion along with Dan Etra, Rethink Autism and Leslie Schect, District 75.

In August I wrote the first “Out of the Box” post, moved by the experience and hoping that the attention to accessibility would continue and grow. It has. I’ve heard from Apple SoHo that they too are getting in on this good thing and will soon be offering Accessibility Workshops (stay tuned).

I see this attention to the needs of special people happening at Apple Stores around the globe. You can help move the process along – go to your friendly neighborhood Apple and ask them to do the same. Get involved in a movement! (No sleeping in tents – I promise.)

This is way too good to keep quiet!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thank You Steve Jobs

When I got home tonight and clicked on to CNN I learned that Steve Jobs died today. I felt the loss of a friend. I certainly didn’t know him personally -- yet it seemed I did. The reports of his health issues prevailed, but I chose to believe he would live forever.

He said, “No one wants to die, and yet death is the destination we all share.” I recently watched the video of his 2005 commencement address at Stanford on my iPad. My love for Apple began with the iPod, then I became intimately involved with the iPhone. It all synched seamlessly with my iMac, creating my first perfectly integrated relationship.

None of this is so different from the relationship anyone had with Steve Jobs or with Apple. That is the beauty of it. My experience was like the experience of everyone else...except I could not see the words on the screens of any of these devices. Under the leadership of Steve Jobs, Apple did something no one else had the guts to do -- they gave text the ability to speak with Voice Over.

He revolutionized a culture and he allowed everyone around him to think of everyone around them. And, I have no doubt that this legacy of inclusion will continue and his powerful spirit will continue to change the world.

In realizing his dreams he also realized mine.

Thanks Steve -- you changed my life!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Out of the Box

My conversion to Apple has been something of a religious experience, and this week my faith was elevated to a whole new level. It happened as I attended “Accessibility Out of the Box” at Apple 14 Street in New York. This event, the first of its kind as far as I know, brought my favorite topic --Universal Access -- front and center.

As I listened to the speakers and looked around at the audience I could not help reflecting on how far we have come. Just a few years ago there was not one big mainstream technology product that was fully accessible to me --- not even one. Today Apple delivers everything with full accessibility --- ready to go right out of the box! If you can’t see or hear well, or you have physical or learning challenges – you get the same product at the same price as everyone else.

The reality of all this brought on a surge of unexpected emotion. I was welling up a little. These were not the tears of misery that technology used to evoke in me --- they were the tears of joy. I realized this was not just about how you see --- it was about how you hear, how you feel, how you think. It was not just about some of us, it was about all of us. Now I really had to fight back the tears!

I was inspired to step out of the box myself and ventured over to the demonstration of accessibility options for Learning and Literacy. There was more good stuff here for me: spotlight search, announced alerts, and text to speech. The gifts keep coming.

If you have not quite experienced the level of understanding you were looking for at your local Apple Store --- Don't Give Up! Today we know Apple 14th Street has accessibility specialists – and tomorrow maybe all the other apple Stores will too. Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Secret Abilities

The secret is out! There are amazing "abilities" being built right in to our everyday technology. I like to call it the “era of inclusion” and it is beautifully illustrated in this article published today in BusinessWeek.

“The iPad's Secret Abilities”

By Rachel King

The Apple tablet is helping people with disabilities by reading e-mails, voicing directions, and zooming in on text Jonathan Avila uses his iPad in ways most people might not realize are possible: The device reads e-mail to him while he’s traveling to work, tells him which way to walk when he is lost, and even lets him know if there’s a sidewalk on the other side of the street. Avila needs these features because he’s visually impaired.

"Work bought it as a testing device, but I’ve claimed it as my own since it makes me more efficient," says Avila, chief accessibility officer for SSB Bart Group, a firm that helps companies implement technology for people with disabilities.

(APL)Apple has added features that make the iPhone and iPad easily accessible, not only to visually impaired people but also to those with hearing loss and other challenges. The iPhone 4 and the iPad 2, for example, come with VoiceOver, a screen reader for those who can’t read print, as well as FaceTime, video-calling software for people who communicate using sign language. Apple has said that iOS 5—due later this year—will contain improvements to VoiceOver and LED flash and custom vibration settings to let users see and feel when someone is calling.

More such devices as the iPad and iPhone will make their way into the workplace to assist people with physical challenges in the next five years. Disability and aging go hand-in-hand: As baby boomers work past age 65, companies will increasingly face this issue. The incidence of disability in the workplace is 19.4 percent at age 45 and rises to about 50 percent by age 70, according to Jennifer Woodside, chief executive officer of the Disability Training Alliance. Those disabilities can include vision and hearing loss, issues with mobility and dexterity, and learning and cognitive challenges—as well as communications problems.

A Boom in Assistive Technologies
The global market for assistive technologies, including those used in the home, is projected to reach $40.9 billion in 2016, up from $30.5 billion this year, according to a report from BCC Research that’s scheduled to be released this month. In addition to Apple, (MSFT)Microsoft, (IBM)IBM, (GOOG)Google, and (HPQ)Hewlett-Packard make workplace technologies that are accessible to people with a range of abilities.

"Boomers will demand products, services, and workplaces that adapt to their needs and desires," says Rich Donovan, chief investment officer at WingSail Capital. Crossover technology such as the iPad, which works well both for people with disabilities and the broader consumer market, are the "holy grail" of business and disability efforts and will drive growth in disability-related capital spending, he says. Donovan, who has cerebral palsy, just received his first iPad as a Father’s Day gift. "I love it, it’s simple to use and it’s the ideal accessible technology," he says.

Companies such as Apple are motivated, at least in part, to create products that work for people with disabilities because the population is aging, says Dorrie Rush, marketing director of accessible technology at Lighthouse International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting vision loss.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

This is Your Brain on a Cellular Network

My sister instructed my (almost) twelve year old nephew
Evan to take the phone out of his pants pocket because it may cause
sterility. Before that she insisted he keep the laptop off his lap for
the very same reason.

We called our favorite pediatrician for advice and he said "there is no
literature." Evan asked, "What does that mean?" I said, "I guess it
means there is no warning as of now, in writing, from the American
Academy of Pediatrics." He put the phone back in his pocket.

Then my most trusted advisors, Anderson Cooper and
Sanjay Gupta, challenged the very reports that previously gave
us a false sense of security. Apparently there is evidence that
radiation from a mobile phone pressed up against your ear does have an
effect on your brain cells. In fact they discovered that the instructions that come with the
Blackberry and the iPhone recommend keeping the phone approximately 1
inch away from your head when in use. This is printed in black and white
right inside of their user's manual --- that no one ever reads!

Anderson, Sanjay, and I have stopped this risky behavior. We are
talking only while plugged in to an ear piece. And the phones are no
longer in our pants.

So, now Evan has to move the phone away from his head --- and so does
his Mom. And might I do you!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bing Go

I was a little devastated, in November, when I learned that my favorite free directory assistance, GOOG 411. was about to be discontinued. What? How could this be? I stuck with GOOG for almost two years and I'd grown to love it.

Turns out GOOG 411 had a hidden agenda. Google was using my 'Long Island accent' to develop other, more advanced, speech recognition programs like Voice Search, Voice Input, and Voice Actions for mobile phones. In order to build a robust speech model they needed to collect thousands of pronunciations, syllables, intonations, and inflections.

The discovery that I was a participant in Google's ambitious project to move voice activated computing to a new level turned my devastation into delight. Among other things, maybe this massive collection of utterances will minimize the number of times I hear-- "Sorry I didn't get that," because the program is not processing my manner of speaking.

Directory assistance is quickly becoming a thing of the past -- it's demise accelerated buy the ridiculous $2 charge per call. Our phones are smart and the options for free information are abundant. A simple Internet search will deliver the phone number or address you need in less time than it takes to ask.

Just as I was learning to live without GOOG one of my best informants hooked me up with Bing 411 (compliments of Microsoft). I immediately got into it. Bing 411 will search by city for business listings and can connect to other directories for weather, movies, sports, news, time, travel, driving directions and even cheap gas. I like it.

Try it, you might like it too...800-BING 411 (800-246-4411).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Apple Leads the Way for EVERYONE

Last Friday I joined Mark Ackermann, Lighthouse CEO, in a phone conversation with Mark Kellner of The Washington Times to talk about the phe-nom that is accessible technology. I'm delighted to report that this journalist really got the point.

KELLNER: Apple leads in 'assistive technology' for the blind
By Mark A. Kellner
The Washington Times
4:44 p.m., Tuesday, January 18, 2011

If there's anything that can scare most of us - and with good reason
it's the prospect of losing one's sight, or having it severely damaged.
It's not just total blindness; diseases such as macular degeneration, in
which damage to the retina causes a loss of vision in the macula, the
center of vision, often strikes older people, but it can also affect
young adults and others.

(That anxiety is, apparently, widely shared: According to an October
2010 poll by Harris Interactive, 82 percent of Americans fear losing
their vision, the highest proportion among the five senses, and more
than 10 times the next-highest fear, loss of hearing at 8 percent.)

The introduction of the Braille alphabet, which lets people "read" by
touch, has been an advancement, but as then-Gov. David A. Paterson told
the New York Times on Dec. 26 of last year, "You can't Braille the daily

How can those with limited vision, or even no vision at all, be
mainstreamed in today's tech-intensive world? Mark Ackermann and Dorrie
Rush have some answers. Mr. Ackermann is president and CEO, and Ms. Rush
is director of marketing for "assistive technology" at Lighthouse
International,, a New York-based agency helping those
with vision-loss issues.

The 105-year-old Lighthouse is widely known in New York City, having
provided education, job training and living assistance for those who
need it. The group has a massive facility on East 59th Street in
Manhattan that has served thousands.

Today's distributed world needs distributed solutions, however: People
can live and work just about anywhere, and, as Ms. Rush's example would
suggest, even thrive, despite her having Stargardt's disease, which, she
writes, "results in progressive loss of central vision."

But Ms. Rush uses an iPhone and an iPad, both from Apple Inc. She works
on a Windows-based personal computer at her office, and an Apple iMac at
home. She's a blogger ( and an

"I'm 52 years old and I want to be like the other kids," Ms. Rush said
in a Jan. 14 telephone interview. Having assistive technology which
either greatly enlarges the screen display or reads aloud text on a
computer screen is vital, she said: "It means I can continue a
relatively normal life; I can work. It is something that everyone
dealing with vision loss fears losing, which is his or her ability to

More important, Ms. Rush's iPad and iPhone look just like yours and mine
would. Instead of carrying something which shouts "I'm using a special
product," users can fit in with the crowd, and that's a plus.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Verizon Comes to the Party

Yesterday Verizon made an honest woman of me, finally. I was beginning
to doubt my certainty that Verizon would get the iPhone when AT&T's
exclusive expired. Over and over I assured Verizon customers unwilling to switch wireless carriers (as I did) that the iPhone was coming to Verizon - for sure!

It was surprising that many Verizon customers were more attached
emotionally than contractually. Even in the face of the most popular
mobile phone in the world becoming fully accessible to people with
impaired vision - many customers of Verizon would not budge. It was not
as if they had a viable option -- In terms of accessibility no other
mobile phone comes close.

Last January I began stating with pure certitude that Verizon's iPhone
was imminent. When the first quarter of 2010 came and went I
repositioned my prediction into Q2. By the third quarter I was so sure I
was ready to bet money on it. Then in the fourth quarter I realized my
best bet was to shut my mouth.

Disillusioned, I consulted my reliable sources at Apple and at Verizon -
their lips were sealed. Clearly I had been outsmarted by Apple's wildly successful no-hype approach to all launches - SWEAR EVERYONE TO SECRECY!

So I stopped offering my predictions on the coming of the iPhone to Verizon and I told myself to not to be so sure of things I am not sure of.

And then the announcement comes - Verizon is indeed coming to the party!!

The news not only pleased me immensely, it also put a "spring" in Jon Stewart's step, as he too apparently had been anxiously awaiting another iPhone option. For his hilarious tribute to AT&T on the Daily Show click here.