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Articles by Penny Reeder

tech September 14, 2011

How Apple and Google Beget Books for the Blind

Yesterday I downloaded a new app for my iPhone. The Google eBooks app was free; it took two minutes to find it in the app store and download it onto my iPhone, and another minute to move it to the folder I labeled “Books.” Then, it took me all of another five minutes to go to the Google eBookstore and find and pay for Life, On the Line, a book about a chef who lost his sense of taste. I have been longing to read this book since hearing the author, Grant Achatz, interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air program last March. Thanks to new technology, in just minutes I am now able to do what might have taken months, if not years. I can now find, purchase and “read” books online just like anyone else who has 100% vision. All of this is made possible by VoiceOver, the iPhone’s built-in text-to-speech screenreader ... keep reading »
Life February 27, 2011

MetroAccess Riders in D.C. Wake Up to Fare Hikes

How often do you get off the subway and find that there is no working elevator or escalator to get you out of the station? How often have you not been able to hear stop announcements on a subway car or a city bus? How often do missing light bulbs in subway stations make it impossible for you to see well enough to feel safe? These are just a few of the reasons that people with disabilities, like it or not, rely on paratransit services rather than conventional public transportation. In the Washington, D.C. area, paratransit services just got more expensive. Starting today, fares for MetroAccess, which is operated by the Washington Area Mass Transit Authority, will more than double. Yesterday’s fares of $3 each way will rise to as much as $7 each way per trip! How WMATA’s board justifies the huge increase in fares is mind-boggling. They point to their ... keep reading »
Blog January 4, 2011

Happy Birthday Louis Braille!

Dear Louis Braille, I’m writing to send you a birthday greeting. Tomorrow is your two-hundred-and-second birthday, which means that braille, the code you invented that allows people who are blind to read and write and communicate, must be about 187 years old, since you were only 15 when you invented the code! Dear Louis, that just blows me away! When I was 15, I was busy pretending that I could see just fine. My nose was quite literally buried deep inside every book I read; I was spending three or four more hours getting my tenth-grade homework done than my fully-sighted classmates, and I was in a “math basics” class (for dummies) because the guidance counselor at the high school I was attending said none of the math teachers could figure out how to teach geometry to “someone like me!” I would have been so much better off, dear Louis, had I ... keep reading »
tech October 8, 2010

Letting the Blind Tune In to TV and the Web

Penny Reeder, the former editor of “The Braille Forum,” the monthly magazine of the American Council of the Blind, now writes for the abledbody blog. As a consumer and advocate who is blind, Reeder shared her thoughts about the 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act that President Obama will sign into law today at 2 p.m. ET the White House, and can be watched live. Q: Penny, the new law is going to help make mobile devices more accessible for people who are blind and visually impaired, but as you mentioned in your article, you still think the Federal Communications Commission needs to hear from the blind community. What are the issues at hand? A: We still don’t have options for accessible smartphones outside of the iPhone. I’m a Verizon customer, and I cant find a smartphone that’s accessible to me unless I pay hundreds of dollars for a screen reader ... keep reading »
tech October 6, 2010

Share Your Smartphone Strife with the FCC

I am in the market for an accessible smartphone. I’m blind, and have been a shopper in this marketplace for a number of years now. Still, as a Verizon customer I find the experience endlessly frustrating. It’s not for lack of trying. After subscribing to several e-mail discussion lists, talking to friends and trying out their phones, and making more trips than I’d like to think about to my local Verizon store, I still don’t have an accessible smartphone – and the iPhone isn’t on the Verizon network yet. Here’s what I want: I want a smartphone with buttons that I can readily distinguish that allows me to go online; browse the internet for working, reading, listening to music, and connecting with family and friends; and survive as a person who is blind in the increasingly complex milieu that we call “life.” There’s more. I want to be able to read my ... keep reading »
tech September 28, 2010

With These Gadgets, You’ll Never Shop (or Cook) Blindly Again

As someone who is blind, I can’t tell you how many times I have reached into the freezer for a box of frozen something-or-other only to realize that I couldn’t prepare the food without first reading the directions, which I cannot see. When that happens, I have a few options: I can ask a neighbor or friend; I can take a guess (or a gamble); or I can wait for someone to come home and read the instructions to me. The complete lack of access to printed information on packages and product inserts is troublesome for those of us who are visually impaired and still want to prepare great meals, keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy, maintain clean houses, and independently accomplish the day-to-day tasks that are simply a “part of normal life” for most people. It can be even more problematic — or downright dangerous — ... keep reading »
Blog June 22, 2010

Google’s Garbled Audio CAPTCHA

Last year, I attended a multi-day conference to provide input to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped on its then-new digital book playback equipment. My employer was enthusiastically supportive of my participation, as long as I kept up with my work responsibilities. But things went awry the first night in my hotel room. Why? The culprit was CAPTCHA. Specifically, the CAPTCHA associated with Google’s e-mail client, Gmail. As my online connection from the hotel room was a little iffy, Gmail decided I needed to verify who I really was via CAPTCHA, the program that requires additional verification by inputting letters and numbers into a display box. Because I am blind and use a screen reader, I couldn’t perform this task without help. Thus, I couldn’t read my e-mail or catch up on work. Google does provide an audio CAPTCHA for blind computer users who cannot see the visual ... keep reading »
Life April 28, 2010

…And Access for All

He gets it, I said aloud to no one in particular. I listened to the robotic-sounding voice on my screen reader that was turning the words I was reading into comprehensible spoken text. I was talking about Samuel R. Bagenstos, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division, who had just told the House Judiciary panel that access to new technologies for people with disabilities is “not simply a technical matter, but a fundamental issue of civil rights.” All I have to say is Hallelujah! Bagenstos said the Justice Dept. would push to bring better access to emerging technologies for people with disabilities, such as government and commercial websites, the Internet and digital talking books. Websites are particularly difficult for people with vision impairments, who must use assistive technologies like screen readers that read text out loud or braille displays that convert text to braille. The Civil ... keep reading »
Life March 15, 2010

Five Reasons to Air the Paralympics (Thanks, NBC)

A few weeks ago, every conversational gambit began with, “Were you watching the Olympics last night when…?” Once again, televised coverage of the winter Olympics taking place this year in Vancouver, British Columbia was our quadrennial national obsession, an excuse to gather everyone in front of the T.V. to cheer on Team USA. I didn’t watch too much of the winter Olympics this year, but it did occur to me: Wouldn’t it be truly wonderful if Americans could also be swept away by the Paralympic winter games? Fortunately, the major networks are giving Americans an opportunity. NBC Sports, Universal Sports and GE are sponsoring Paralympic programming for their broadcast coverage of highlights of the 2010 Paralympic Games. Coverage on NBC Sports will include a one-hour program recapping the Opening Ceremony on Saturday, March 13 (1-2 p.m. ET) and a two-hour highlights program on Saturday, April 10 (3-5 p.m. ET). ... keep reading »

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