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Articles by Michael Janger

tech August 25, 2011

For the Deaf, Captioned Tours Wherever You Roam

Picture this: You fly off to Rome, head to the Coliseum and, using your iPhone, play a video that guides you around the ancient arena where gladiators and lions once roamed. Later, walk across Piazza del Colosseo to the Roman Forum and view a video tour of the sprawling Forum ruins, taking in what was once the center of ancient Rome. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, you can turn on the captioning feature. This vision will soon be a reality, thanks to Keen Guides, an up-and-coming Virginia-based company that’s in the process of creating and selling short-format GPS-based video and audio tours for the iPhone and later, BlackBerry and Android phones. These tours — available in app stores — will focus on museums and popular tourist attractions; your phone can recognize the ones nearest to you. Best of all, Keen Guide’s audio and video content will be captioned for ... keep reading »
Blog November 10, 2010

Hilton Reaches Deal with Disabled Guests

In a groundbreaking settlement, the Department of Justice and Hilton Worldwide negotiated a far-reaching agreement to bring approximately 900 Hilton-branded hotels across the United States into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The deal requires all Hilton Worldwide-owned and joint-venture hotels to modify their online reservation systems to let customers with disabilities select and reserve accessible rooms, such as those that are suited for wheelchairs. All large U.S. hotels built after 1993 are required to offer wheelchair-friendly rooms; most hotels will let customers request — but not book — an accessible room. Hilton is the first hotel required to specifically modify the way customers with disabilities reserve rooms. Like other large hotel chains, Hilton must also ensure its online reservations system is accessible to people who use assistive technologies to navigate a computer, such as a screen reader. Additionally Hilton Worldwide will conduct surveys at franchised or independently managed hotels to ... keep reading »
Life November 3, 2010

Iceland’s “Magga” Shines as First Deaf Parliament Member

Sigurlín Margrét Sigurðardóttir served in the Parliament of Iceland, or Alþing, from 2003 to 2007.  She is the first deaf person to serve in Iceland’s national legislative body.  During her term in the Alþing, she introduced bills to recognize Icelandic Sign Language as an official language in the country, and to caption all domestically produced television shows. On her first day in the Alþing, Sigurðardóttir, better known to Icelanders as Magga, delivered her inaugural speech from the parliament floor on live TV in Icelandic Sign Language, also a first in the Alþing. Today, Magga teaches sign language and is studying for an advanced degree in sign language at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík. She continues to fight for recognition of Icelandic Sign Language, increased accessibility to information for deaf Icelanders, and the right to Sign Language interpreter services within the country. Q: Magga, your inaugural speech was an inspiration to deaf people ... keep reading »
tech October 14, 2010

A Steering Wheel With Ideas Of Its Own

The dramatic increase in the usage of GPS navigation devices among automobile drivers in the U.S. has been nothing short of amazing. Only a few years ago, drivers often pulled over on the roadside, asked passersby for directions, consulted faded and dog-eared AAA maps, and sometimes squinted at hard-to-read signs at night. Today, a driver equipped with a GPS device can navigate the narrow, complex and tortuous streets of downtown Boston without getting lost — a feat that would otherwise be unimaginable for non-Bostonians. For deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers, the GPS devices have also been helpful, bailing them out of situations where they would otherwise get lost and have difficulty talking to someone for directions, or calling someone for assistance (as phones present a challenge for people who are deaf). However, there is one aspect of the GPS devices that presents a distraction for deaf drivers. While ... keep reading »
tech October 5, 2010

Web Content Accessibility Law Needs More Brawn

After passing in the Senate last week, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which will improve access to mobile content for the deaf and blind communities, will soon become law. This means deaf consumers can now watch closed-captioned shows and movies on the Web on their PC or mobile devices. Before, closed-captions were only available on TVs. Blind consumers will also benefit from limited hours of video-description services on the Web, and the law will require touch-screen smartphones that have Web features to be made accessible to them. Where do people with disabilities go from here, in this brave new world? Clearly, this law is an important step toward enabling deaf and blind people to view and understand mobile content on a par with non-disabled consumers. For example, a deaf business executive traveling to the other side of the country can now open up her laptop in the comfort ... keep reading »
tech May 17, 2010

A Walk Through SUNY’s Assistive Tech Expo

On Saturday, May 15, the State University of New York in Orange County (SUNY Orange) hosted its first annual Hudson Valley Assistive Technology Expo. Over 60 exhibits and vendors advertised their services and products. Headlining the expo was a keynote speech by Dr. Nancy Sulla of IDECORP (an expert on Universal Design for Learning), special screenings of the movie “Shooting Beauty,” and our very own Suzanne Robitaille, who signed copies of her book, “The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology.” A walk through SUNY Orange’s exhibit hall yielded some very fascinating products: 1. The WYNN Literacy Software Solution, developed by Freedom Scientific, is designed for students who are learning-disabled, dyslexic, or who otherwise are struggling with reading educational materials. It also serves as a tool for those with vision problems who need easier reading. The WYNN Literacy Software Solution WYNN scans pages from books and, using optical recognition software, reads aloud the text, ... keep reading »
Blog May 14, 2010

iPhone Movie Captioning App To Be Shelved?

Last month, I wrote here on about a new captioning application for the iPhone that lets deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers follow the dialogue of almost any movie in any movie theater in the nation. Subtitles, as this app is called, was developed by Dan Walker, who did not realize that it would greatly benefit deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers. Movies are hardly ever captioned; deaf and hard-of-hearing people usually frequent select movie theaters that show movies with open captions or use the Rear Window Caption System, usually at specific times of day. Because I am deaf, using the Subtitles app I was able to watch “Avatar” at my local movie theater in New York City, two blocks away from my home, for the first time — even though I have lived in this neighborhood for four years. Earlier this week, Dan Walker was notified by Apple that his app violated ... keep reading »
Life April 14, 2010

Deaf Entertainers Documentary Hits All the Right Notes

Hilari Scarl’s See What I’m Saying is an exciting, funny, emotional and ultimately worthy addition to the rich compendium of films chronicling the deaf experience. Providing its own unique spin on the deaf film genre, the documentary explores the desire to strike it big on the stage from the perspective of a drummer, actor, comic and singer – all who happen to be deaf or hard-of-hearing. The theme that unifies this foursome is passion for their craft. Given the challenges of their disabilities — significant hearing loss — each chooses to pursue what they enjoy, even if it means giving up safer or more appropriate career roles. Bob Hiltermann is a school teacher by day, but by night he heads to his home garage and practices on his drums, dreaming about his next deaf rock band gig. He freely admits that teaching is “my side job, not my dream.” Robert De ... keep reading »
tech March 26, 2010

iPhone App Delivers Movie Captions On the Go

For four years, I have lived within three blocks of two major movie theaters on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, yet, as a deaf person, I have never gone to a movie in these theaters because they do not use captioning systems. Consequently, my wife and I are forced to go across town to specially scheduled open-captioned or Rear Window Captioning screenings of these movies in select theaters, or go to independent theaters that show foreign films with English subtitles. It was either this, or wait for movies with subtitles to arrive on DVD, months after their release. I have always wanted the flexibility — like any hearing person — to decide at a moment’s notice to see a movie at my local theater. So, imagine my excitement when, earlier this week, I heard about a new, 99-cent iPhone application that lets me do just that. Called “Subtitles,” and developed ... keep reading »
Life March 19, 2010

Alan Brightman’s Disability Wonderland

As a voracious reader of books, I read many different genres. However, I like straightforward plotlines, chapters with a clear structure and a logical progression of an idea or story. For those reasons, it took time for me to digest, figure out and ultimately, understand, DisabilityLand, Alan Brightman’s well-written book about people with disabilities. DisabilityLand isn’t your typical non-fiction book. It’s an eclectic compilation of short stories and vignettes from Brightman’s years as an advocate for people with disabilities while at Apple and Yahoo! This book shakes up perceptions one might have of a typical disabled person, who too often is caricatured as someone who is either incapable of performing basic life activities independently, or is a hero and depicted as supernatural, amazing or gifted if he or she assumes a role of high responsibility and great influence. I asked Brightman why he wrote DisabilityLand the way he did, ... keep reading »
Life February 4, 2010

An Accessible Museum Tour in Your Hand

Catharine McNally is founder and president of Keen Guides, a company that creates and sells downloadable tours for the smart phone filled with images, audio, video and text. A museum lover who has been deaf since she was an infant, McNally hopes her company will make cultural outings a more enjoyable and accessible for everyone, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Q: Catharine, how did you first get involved with tour guides, especially with making sure they are accessible to people with disabilities? A: I was visiting a museum in Washington, D.C., and the information desk handed me a pile of paper transcripts so I could follow along with the audio guide. I went home and video recorded a version of the commentary in cued speech [mouth movements of speech combined with hand signals, or cues] as video clips, and then went back the next day and viewed it ... keep reading »