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Articles by Suzanne Robitaille

TOP STORY May 8, 2014

A Kiss of Hope for Ovarian Cancer

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day, of significance to any woman born on earth. It’s not a disease women often think about—partly because it’s difficult to diagnose. But we should, as the outlook for women with ovarian cancer is grim: Only 45% of the 250,000 women diagnosed globally each year survive the disease. Unlike with breast cancer, which affects around 1.7 million people worldwide annually and has a survivor rate of up to 89%, women with ovarian cancer are often diagnosed too late. An annual pap smear cannot detect it. Cancer is considered an episodic disability under the expanded American with Disabilities Act of 2008, meaning that a woman, while she has cancer and is undergoing related treatment, is entitled to protections and accommodations in the workplace and beyond. It’s worth noting that ovarian cancer is, at least in the beginning, an invisible disability. A woman can wake up in the morning, shower ... keep reading »
WHAT'S HOT December 18, 2013

A “Nobel Prize for Disabilities”

There are prizes for peace, there are prizes for science and now, there is an award that pays tribute to leaders with disabilities. The Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards is in its second year, and while his name might not seem important—it is. Dr. Viscardi, who wore prosthetic legs, advised no less than eight presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter, on hot-button disability issues of their days. Any individual who has served as a force for change or helped to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities can apply for the 2014 awards. “It’s like the Nobel Prize for disabilities advocacy,” says John Kemp, CEO and President of The Viscardi Center. This year, the aim is to encourage more nominees who can give a “contemporary, international” face to the program, Kemp says. He points to actor Michael J. Fox, who is breaking new ground on prime-time television on The Michael ... keep reading »
WHAT'S HOT October 30, 2013

AbleRoad Aims to Be ‘Yelp’ for Accessibility

Following the success of sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon, a company called AbleRoad is using technology to connect people with restaurants and shops, only this time the venues being reviewed are—ideally—accessible to people with disabilities. The AbleRoad website and app hitches to the crowdsourcing trend and lets people with disabilities review any public space or business. It is integrated with Yelp, allowing users to see both the Yelp and AbleRoad ratings for a business on the same screen. Like Yelp, users can add ratings and upload photos while on location; AbleRoad lets you rate them for many factors relevant to people with disabilities, such as ease of access or the availability of sign language interpreters. AbleRoad’s site and app are accessible to people who are blind or have low vision and use their own screen reader or Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen-reading technology on the iPhone and iPad. The app is also available on Google ... keep reading »
Life October 1, 2013

Why JetBlue Started an Autism Travel Program

Christina Mendez and her 16-year-old son Damian drove to John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York on a Saturday afternoon. But they didn’t go anywhere. Mendez was helping Damian, who has autism, get acquainted with flying. He’s never been on an airplane. Damian and his mother practiced checking in, walking through security and boarding a plane. Once on board, they fastened their seat belts; a flight attendant offered them snacks. Then the A320 aircraft pulled away from the gate for 20 minutes so Damian could experience the plane in motion. “He was just so excited to sit in a plane, and to interact with the flight attendants and see the cockpit,” says Ms. Mendez. Around 300 children and their families gathered at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 as part of the inaugural Blue Horizons for Autism, a new program from JetBlue and Autism Speaks that aims to help kids with autism become familiar with flying. ... keep reading »
TOP STORY August 27, 2013

Crowdsourcing Accessible Playgrounds

National Public Radio has released a new app to help parents and other find accessible playgrounds nationwide. The Playgrounds for Everyone desktop and mobile app maps more than 1,300 venues designed for kids with disabilities, with features like smooth surfaces, swings with backs or safety harnesses, ramps to allow children to access play towers and slides, or sound-play features like drums or chimes. According to a new report aired today on NPR program All Things Considered, federal law now defines playground accessibility as a civil right under the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring that structures built or altered after March 2012 to meet those standards. Kids in wheelchairs need smooth surfaces to navigate; some inclusive playgrounds offer Braille or textured materials for kids with sight impairments. NPR is asking for the public’s help in crowd-sourcing more playgrounds around the country and adding them to their new database. Go to http://npr.org/playgrounds to add a ... keep reading »
Blog&WHAT'S HOT April 4, 2013

Talk This Way: Disability on TV

I spoke with NPR today on a show called Where We Live. The topic was perceptions of people with disabilities in the media. Apparently I did a good job but I could hardly hear John Dankosky, the radio host; they have a great producer team (Brianna and Catie) who got me some questions in advance, which probably saved the segment. Next time I’ll drive up to the studio in Hartford. Anyway, after I spoke I was thinking about how film and television shows represent disability—both good and bad. A colleague wrote after hearing the piece and said a “good” example is Michael J. Fox’s role on The Good Wife. I agree. Another is RJ Mitte in Breaking Bad. Mitte has cerebral palsy and he even admits to making it seem worse than it is on TV, for effect. It’s not like people with disabilities can just make their symptoms appear on the ... keep reading »
tech March 5, 2013

Click to Read with Bookshare Web Reader

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is now available with just a click. Bookshare, the digital library for people with print disabilities, is making it easier to read copyrighted digital books online. Instead of having to download books or use separate software, Bookshare members can use the new Bookshare Web Reader to open and read books with a web browser such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE 9. Check out the video here. A good reason to use Chrome is that it lets users read books multi-modally, with word-by-word highlighting and text-to-speech. All of the browsers allow for adjustments in font size, colors and display format. The Bookshare Web Reader is currently optimized for members with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or low vision. The nonprofit also launched Bookshelf, which helps teachers and individuals organize textbooks and assigned reading on a digital bookshelf. Users can organize Bookshelves by any system they want, such as by interest or author, saving time. ... keep reading »
work August 27, 2012

My Disability-Owned Business

People always seem impressed when I tell them I’m a certified disability-owned business enterprise. Because abledbody is owned by me, and I’m profoundly deaf, and have satisfied the requirements of being a legitimate business owner, the U.S. Business Leadership Network gave me certification back in 2010. I have to reapply for it every year, and let me tell you, it’s worth it. When I first applied there were two major reasons to get certified, and now, there’s a third. First, being a DOBE means you can add your company into a USBLN-member’s supply chain system, which is how large companies source for goods and services. USBLN’s members are mostly large corporations like Southwest Airlines, WellPoint, Merck, Marriott and more. They convene every October at the USBLN’s annual conference, which will be held at the Renaissance Orlando at Sea World by Marriott this year for workshops and sessions around disability inclusion in ... keep reading »
work July 20, 2012

Fixing the Disability Employment Crisis

On the eve of the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a Senator from Iowa has penned a report — and action plan — to get more jobs for people with disabilities. Sen. Tom Harkin, who is known for his longtime advocacy for people with disabilities, told the Huffington Post he plans to use his power in Washington to “make the issue of disability employment a national priority.” As chair of the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, Harkin released a report that lays out the bare (and well-known) facts: People with disabilities participate in the workforce at a rate far lower than any other group, including women, African-Americans and Latinos. Workers with disabilities also left the labor force during the 2008 recession at a rate five times faster than workers without disabilities. The Senator wants to change the landscape, starting with the public sector, which has promised hiring ... keep reading »
Life July 17, 2012

Hearing Aids A Nice Fit for American Girl

American Girl has taken a courageous step towards diversity with the launch of dolls with hearing aids, well as dolls without hair, signaling to the disability community that little girls who are differently-abled are important enough to have their own personalized doll experience. Any 18-inch My American Girl doll can be fitted with one or two hearing aids to make her hard of hearing or deaf, whichever her owner desires. All it takes is a visit to the doll hospital, where a doctor will perform a permanent piercing behind one or both ears for a $14 fee. New dolls also can be ordered with hearing aids already installed. The hearing aids are removable and sell at all American Girl stores, and online, for $14 each. The company also released an adorable service dog-in-training set for dolls who are blind or in need of assistance. The dog, Chocolate Chip, wears a service vest ... keep reading »
Life July 11, 2012

For A Hand Cycler, No Finish Line in Sight

Greg Damerow is an honest-talking guy from Ohio who went from working at a plumbing company to becoming a competitive hand cycler, most recently winning two medals at the USA Cycling Para-Cycling Nationals in Augusta, Ga. Hand cycling is Damerow’s sport of choice after losing his ability to walk at age 18 due to a debilitating form of arthritis. Hand cycles are three-wheeled bikes powered by the arms, not legs, and require immense upper body strength. Knees are tucked under the bike. Not content with the current design of hand cycles on the market for disabled athletes, Damerow took it upon himself to start a company, Personalized Cycling Alternatives, to build adaptive bikes, working out of his garage in Richmond Hill, Ohio. He builds custom hand cycles for anyone who orders one, at a cost of about $2,000 for an entry-level, recreational hand cycle and $3,000 and more for a racing bike. When ... keep reading »
Life June 5, 2012

Rock and Roll, ‘Push Girls’

I’d like to forgive Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times’ T.V. writer, for his lukewarm review of Push Girls, which premiered last night on the Sundance Channel (and you can also watch it on Hulu.com, iTunes and Xfinity). Push Girl tracks five dynamic women with acquired mobility disabilities –- four paraplegics and one quadriplegic — as they each tackle life, their careers and love. That these five girls “are not representative” of people with disabilities, as the New York Times says, could not be farther from the truth. Tiphany is a pretty blonde who uses hand controls to drive her sports car. There’s Auti, a Latina hip-hop dancer, who has a dance chair with dollar signs on her rims. Mia is a former athlete and Angela is an aspiring model. A fifth girl, Chelsie, will appear in later episodes. True, they are not representative of disability in the same way that Snooki ... keep reading »
Life March 27, 2012

How Merrill Lynch Helps Special Needs Families

For Bill Christiaanse, business is often personal. At Bank of America Merrill Lynch, he helps families of children with special needs figure out how to financially provide for their child over a lifetime. He’s also the father of Matt, a 26-year-old who has autism, which means he knows firsthand what it’s like to worry about making sure Matt’s housing, health and other expenses are taken care of—now, and 40 years from now. As a Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor with the Certified Special Needs Advisor designation, Christiaanse is one of a handful of 1,000 Merrill advisors around the country who can take on the complex and sensitive issues surrounding special needs children and their families. Working out of Stamford, Conn., he’s an expert in Supplemental Needs Trusts, or Special Needs Trusts, which are designed to protect the assets of a person with a physical or mental disability. To aid families through the initial ... keep reading »
design January 18, 2012

“If London Can Run an Accessible Fleet…”

Two prominent disability organizations responded to the January 5 New York Times Op-Ed by Matthew Daus, a former chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission regarding the availability of accessible taxis in New York. I had written a post about the Op-Ed, saying that Daus’s proposed plan — to create a “dial-a-ride” dispatch system run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in lieu of bringing more accessible cabs to the city — would create an unequal access problem and deny people with mobility disabilities the opportunity to do what everyone else can do. I wrote: “The whole point of hailing a cab is to not have to worry about time, location and traffic. You simply go outside when you are ready, hold up your hand (or leg), and hail a cab to the curb. Daus says this luxury shouldn’t apply to people with disabilities, even those who can ... keep reading »
Life January 5, 2012

NYC Needs to Mellow over Accessible Yellow Cabs

There are 13,000 taxis plying their trade each day in New York City, yet people with disabilities have no “meaningful access” to them: Only around 230 cabs, or 2%, are accessible to people using wheelchairs. So when a U.S. judge ruled in December that the city would need to come up with a way to introduce more accessible vehicles, Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission thunk one up. They proposed issuing 6,000 new medallions over 10 years, of which 2,000 would be reserved for wheelchair-accessible yellow cabs. But many city officials think this plan won’t work. In today’s New York Times, former New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman Matthew Daus tried to make the argument that wheelchair-accessible cabs take up too much space on city streets, would cause insurance premiums to rise, and people with disabilities wouldn’t even bother to use them because ... keep reading »
work December 8, 2011

Labor Dept. Sets 7% Hiring Goal for Disabled Workers

The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a move it calls necessary for helping more people with disabilities get hired amid a dismal unemployment rate: A new rule that would require federal contractors and subcontractors to set a hiring goal of 7% for the employment of people with disabilities. The new rule, if passed into law, would strengthen Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that obligates federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure equal employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities. Up until now, there has not been a clearly defined rule in place, though companies that do business with the government have to show evidence of taking proactive steps to recruit workers with disabilities. With four out of five workers with disabilities outside of the labor force, the Labor Dept. recognizes it has some work to do, starting with laws that can be enforced for the some 200,000 businesses ... keep reading »
work November 29, 2011

New Jobs Portal for People with Disabilities

Think Beyond the Label today launched an online jobs portal that connects job seekers with disabilities to employers, including those that are actively seeking to hire them. The job-search engine gives candidates with disabilities access to 860,000 jobs listings from large and small employers that have been “vetted”. With a nearly 15% unemployment rate among working-age Americans with disabilities, Think Beyond the Label hopes its jobs portal will promote disability employment opportunities, help grow the pipeline of qualified job candidates with disabilities, and meet businesses’ hiring needs. Full disclosure: I consult for Think Beyond the Label. I’m also keenly tuned into the job-search landscape for people with disabilities, and I’m not certain that search engines that index jobs across corporate websites will ever be the best way to land a job. Period. However, the real value in Think Beyond the Label’s new portal is in making employers aware that they can recruit ... keep reading »
design September 21, 2011

Companies that Shine through Universal Design

Amid a new Fast Company report of American companies that “get” innovative design are a handful of manufacturers whose wares vastly improve the lives of people with disabilities. It is marvelous to see these products get their due. The collection of superbly designed goods is considered so iconic, Fast Company sketches them as ice-blue abstract illustrations – you can distinguish each product simply by their cool aesthetics, sleek lines, or sexy shape. But never mind sexy. Fast Company says these goods are “pragmatic,” with pure usability and “marketplace appeal” built into them. They are the result of a breakthrough by American innovators who realized that making high performing and expertly designed products that “focus more on the needs of real consumers” can enhance profits and drive customer loyalty. Glimpses of universal design principles sparkle in many of these goods. Universal design is the idea that products and places should be made for use ... keep reading »
Life September 19, 2011

Film Shows Tourette’s Can’t Thwart Teen’s Dreams

Different Is the New Normal follows the adolescence of Ariel Small, whose family learned he has Tourette syndrome when he was five years old –- noticing his unique motor tics such as blinking. His parents, Robin and David Small, who produced and provided major support for the documentary, struggle to help Ariel fit in at school and at home with his four brothers in the Chicago suburbs where they live. Through vintage home videos and one-on-one interviews between Ariel and his mother, we learn that Ariel is an intelligent, thoughtful 17-year old young man who has a gift for articulating the complexities of Tourette’s and how it disrupts his daily functions. We learn that most people who have the disease exhibit both external symptoms like tics and internal behaviors like obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or learning disabilities. As Ariel talks about his middle and high school years, it’s clear that ... keep reading »
Life September 16, 2011

Film Shows Tourette’s Can’t Thwart Teen’s Dreams

Different Is the New Normal, which premiered last night on WNET, follows the adolescence of Ariel Small, whose family learned he has Tourette syndrome when he was five years old –- noticing his unique motor tics such as blinking. His parents, Robin and David Small, who produced and provided major support for the documentary, struggle to help Ariel fit in at school and at home with his four brothers in the Chicago suburbs where they live. Through vintage home videos and one-on-one interviews between Ariel and his mother, we learn that Ariel is an intelligent, thoughtful 17-year old young man who has a gift for articulating the complexities of Tourette’s and how it disrupts his daily functions. We learn that most people who have the disease exhibit both external symptoms like tics and internal behaviors like obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or learning disabilities. As Ariel talks about his middle and ... keep reading »
tech September 9, 2011

Mobile Tech for the Blind

Finding a loaf of French bread and a wheel of Camembert could get a lot easier for people with disabilities. French supermarket chain Casino is testing the potential of chip-enabled smartphones that would make grocery shopping easier for people who are blind, visually impaired or have a physical disability. Casino is working with The Vision Institute, a research hospital in Paris, to experiment with Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, which lets mobile device users wave a phone over a short-range wireless receiver or tap the device to get information or make a purchase. If successful, NFC tags in Casino stores would show and speak product information, such as price, ingredients and nutrition values. The chain is expected to begin a live trial in 2012. NFC has potential for all mobile device users. It can create a digital wallet that replaces everything from credit and debit cards, reward cards, coupons, tickets and transit ... keep reading »
tech September 9, 2011

Supermarket Tests Mobile Tech for the Blind

Finding a loaf of French bread and a wheel of Camembert could get a lot easier for people with disabilities. French supermarket chain Casino is testing the potential of chip-enabled smartphones that would make grocery shopping easier for people who are blind, visually impaired or have a physical disability. Casino is working with The Vision Institute, a research hospital in Paris, to experiment with Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, which lets mobile device users wave a phone over a short-range wireless receiver or tap the device to get information or make a purchase. If successful, NFC tags in Casino stores would show and speak product information, such as price, ingredients and nutrition values. The chain is expected to begin a live trial in 2012. NFC has potential for all mobile device users. It can create a digital wallet that replaces everything from credit and debit cards, reward cards, coupons, tickets and transit ... keep reading »
Life September 6, 2011

Starkey Hearing Foundation Seeks World Travelers

The Starkey Hearing Foundation is looking for “ambitious and warm-hearted” young adults age 18 to 26 to participate in a volunteer program that will be turned into a 13-episode documentary centered around Starkey’s philanthropic work in third-world countries. As fans of Celebrity Apprentice know, actor and Starkey Foundation ambassador Marlee Matlin showcased the nonprofit’s flagship program on national T.V. earlier this year. Viewers saw Deaf African children’s eyes light up when they heard sound for the first time with a hearing aid, and Matlin raised more than $1 million for the foundation. Other celebrity ambassadors include Miley Cyrus, Bill Rancic, and Meat Loaf. Volunteers must currently live in Southern California, and if chosen, will travel to new countries to help Starkey succeed in its mission. Week to week, volunteers will be creating robust charitable projects in every country the series visits, participating in an effort that will leave behind the resources, ... keep reading »
design September 6, 2011

Starbucks Debuts Braille Card

In a nod to National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, Starbucks will feature refillable Braille cards. The card features an autumn leaves theme and will have the word “Starbucks” embossed in Braille at the top. This is a fantastic way to raise awareness for the Department of Labor’s annual employment campaign, and one that actually helps people who are visually impaired. Braille users can “feel” for their card in their wallets, without wondering if they took out a Dunkin Donuts card by mistake. Since the card is refillable, if I were a Braille user I’d scoop up a bunch of these. The question is, where? The local Starbucks I work out of in Stamford, Conn., unfortunately doesn’t have the Braille cards yet. The staff, who are super friendly, seemed a little uneasy when I asked about the cards. One barista said she had “heard about them but doesn’t ... keep reading »
Life August 27, 2011

Why Can’t American Girl Dolls Have Disabilities, Too?

I recently stopped into American Girl Place in Chicago. My American Girl dolls are a popular, experiential concept where you choose a doll and then customize her through the purchase of clothes and other accessories that reflect hobbies like cheerleading and taking tea. Absent from the shelves, however, is much in the way of a disabled doll theme. American Girl, which was acquired by Mattel in 1998, says it wants you to “create a doll as unique as you are,” but doesn’t offer many accessories that fully represent the 54 million Americans with disabilities and two million children with special needs. You can purchase a wheelchair accessory ($34), but it looks like one that belongs in a hospital waiting room for injured people — not like the ones used by real kids with disabilities. You can also purchase crutches for temporary injuries, and funky-colored eyeglasses. If a wheelchair is supposed to ... keep reading »
Life August 23, 2011

Chipotle ADA Suit Is a Big, Fat Flop

As I sit in a Starbucks watching baristas serve up morning coffee drinks from behind wood-paneled counters, I think about how easy it would be for Maurizio Antoninetti to sue them. Antoninetti, of San Diego, successfully brought a lawsuit against Chipotle Mexican Grill and yesterday the Supreme Court denied Chipotle’s appeal. The four-foot-high counter at Chipotle, the suit claims, prohibits people in wheelchairs from seeing and selecting their food first-hand, which is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Antoninetti says he is being prevented from “participating in the restaurant experience.” This is a situation people with disabilities know too well, including me. (I’m deaf.) Minutes ago, when the barista at Starbucks asked for my name so she could write it on my cup, I knew I’d never hear my name being called out amid the loud coffee grinders and jazz music. So I did what I always do: ... keep reading »
Life May 10, 2011

On TV, PWDs Are “Ratings Gold”

Every now and then the media writes an article about reality shows that blend in people with disabilities. Favorites are American Idol contestant James Durbin, who has both Tourette and Asperger syndromes, and Luke Adams, the first Deaf contestant on The Amazing Race. While it’s great to see differently abled folk thrown into the crazy, shenanigan-lovin’ circus that is reality TV, it’s about time that producers began realizing the potential for PWDs to draw in top ratings all on their own. There’s no finer person to lead this trend than Oprah Winfrey, who just crowned Zach Anner, a comedian who has cerebral palsy, as the winner of his own TV show on the Oprah Winfrey Network.  Anner plans to travel the world in his wheelchair, cracking jokes about inaccessible palaces and how yoga looks a lot like how he puts on pants in the morning. In a cable series on NBC’s Universal Sports, ... keep reading »
Blog February 23, 2011

TecAccess Trains Disabled Youth for Social Media Careers

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are transforming how businesses develop new products and improve services — and the need for tech-savvy people to run social media for companies is growing by leaps and bounds. At the same time, young people with disabilities like autism and other developmental or intellectual disorders are finding themselves underemployed. One possible solution: Put them to work in the social media field. TecAccess, a provider of accessibility consulting services, has teamed up with the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services and non-profit American Epiphany for a pilot internship program to teach special needs young people to become social media specialists and land jobs in the corporate world, with the goal of helping them develop long-term successful careers. “Corporate America is finally realizing what the kids have known for several years now….and want to jump on the social media bandwagon, says Debra Ruh, founder and ... keep reading »
Life February 17, 2011

Delta Fined $2 Million for Violating Rules Protecting Air Travelers with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today assessed a civil penalty of $2 million against Delta Air Lines for violating rules protecting air travelers with disabilities. Read the report here. Delta Fined for Violating Rules Protecting Air Travelers with Disabilities This civil penalty is the largest penalty ever assessed against an airline by the Department of Transportation in a non-safety-related case. “Ensuring that passengers with disabilities receive fair treatment when they fly is a priority for the Department of Transportation,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We take our aviation disability rules seriously and will continue to enforce them vigorously.” The DOT requires airlines to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities while boarding and deplaning aircraft, including the use of wheelchairs, ramps, mechanical lifts and service personnel where needed. Carriers also must respond within 30 days to written complaints about their treatment of disabled passengers, and specifically address the issues raised in ... keep reading »
tech February 16, 2011

CBS, Walt Disney, Others, Win AFB Access Awards

Two entertainment behemoths, a global tech firm, and a start-up social media company are the recipients of the American Foundation for the Blind‘s 2011 Access Awards, which were announced Tuesday. The companies were honored for their bold and successful strides toward creating new standards of accessibility and a better quality of life for people who are blind or visually impaired. “Each of this year’s Access Award winners displayed a real commitment to making sure their products and services are equally accessible to everyone. And with the growing number of people with vision loss, focusing on accessibility is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a savvy business decision, says Carl Augusto, AFB’s CEO. The winners include Accessible Twitter, created by Dennis Lembree, an alternative version of the popular online social network. The website corrects the inaccessibility of the original Twitter.com design. Twitter users can go to the Accessible Twitter ... keep reading »
Life February 15, 2011

Report: It’s Time to End Sheltered Workshops

The concept of sheltered workshops for those with disabilities began in 1840 with the best of intentions. They were designed to give adults with disabilities living alone or with their families an opportunity to get out of the house and make some pocket change. But many laws have since come about protecting workers with disabilities, namely, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Federal and state vocational rehabilitation programs, work incentives (like the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work program), employer tax credits and deductions, and modern-day “inclusive” hiring strategies have also paved the way for this group. Suddenly, sheltered workshops, which pay less than minimum wage with no benefits in exchange for work opportunities, seems like labor abuse. A recent report from the National Disability Rights Network, titled “Segregated and Exploited,” says as much. The NDRN, a disability advocacy, presents a strong condemnation of the sheltered workshop system ... keep reading »
Life February 8, 2011

Airline Travel for Those with Low Vision

When it comes to air travel when you have a visual impairment, it’s not just about getting frisked in security and boarding a stuffy, crowded plane.  Airports present quite a few additional obstacles to passengers traveling with a visual impairment.  For someone who is totally blind and traveling with a seeing-eye dog, it is kind of obvious that they may need some assistance.  Those with low vision on the other hand, have to do a bit more asking, be more organized and get to the airport earlier than most – it’s no fun running to a gate and not being able to read the signs even though they can be quite large. We thought it would be helpful to take a look at a few of the major airlines in the United States to see what accommodations and assistance they provide to travelers with low vision. Here is what we found… Southwest Airlines On ... keep reading »
Life February 7, 2011

How Microsoft Wins with Accessible Recruiting

  Hiring a diverse workforce has many benefits, such as giving a company a more multicultural perspective that can enhance their product offerings. When hiring a candidate with a disability, however, there are a few extra steps a company can take to make sure the experience is accessible – and successful — for everyone. The Sierra Group led an online seminar last week to give hiring mangers and job seekers with disabilities some solid counsel on how to facilitate accessible recruiting and hiring. In part one of a two-part series, Accessible Recruiting – Disability & Compliance, The Sierra Group helped lay out the landscape for disability recruiting and hiring, and how to help companies navigate issues that might arise, such as ensuring a candidate has the right accommodations to perform their job. “Businesses tell me they don’t want to offend. Sometimes it’s more of the fear of offending than the fear that they’re ... keep reading »
tech February 2, 2011

Is nTouch Mobile Relay for the Deaf Worth It?

Sorenson Communications has announced two products that will help deaf people who sign to communicate with their deaf and hearing friends on the go. The products, ntouch PC and ntouch Mobile, turn laptops and cellphones into videophones with the same Video Relay Service technology now used by deaf individuals to place calls. With Video Relay, a deaf caller can face the video screen and sign a conversation to a hearing operator who also knows sign language, who “relays” the information verbally to the hearing caller and vice versa. Sorenson’s hope is that calllers will be freed from having to sit at home using their proprietary videophone, VP-200, to make calls. A person using ntouch mobile. Photo courtesy of Samuel Sandoval, DeafTechNews Sorenson has a lot to gain from ntouch. As the largest provider of video relay services, Sorenson reaps funds from the government to provide video relay services. The Federal Communications Commission requires ... keep reading »
tech February 1, 2011

New Apps Sizzle at ATIA 2011

At the 2011 Assistive Technology Industry Association conference in Orlando, assistive technology vendors could be found at their booths showing off mobile versions of their best-selling products. As smartphones and tablets continue to peform well as assistive tools for people with disabilities, vendors have their work cut out for them. Some of the apps were exact replicas of their traditional products, while others took a different spin — bringing something entirely new to the marketplace. Here are a few that stood out: Benetech, the parent nonprofit for Bookshare, announced Read2Go, a new accessible e-book app for Apple devices. Read2Go is a  full-featured DAISY reader; DAISY is a digital audio format that is specially designed with a navigation feature for those with vision loss, physical or learning disabilities who cannot read printed media. From within the app, users can search, download, and read Bookshare books and periodicals with the use of Acapela, which is a high-quality and naturally sounding text-to-speech ... keep reading »
tech January 31, 2011

First Blind Man Drives Car Independently

Mark Riccobono became the first legally blind man to drive a car independently when he successfully navigated 1.5 miles of the road course section of the famed track at the Daytona International Speedway. Riccobono, a blind executive at The National Federation of the Blind, was behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual technology — gloves and a seat pad that had sensors built in them to help him feel his way along the course. Riccobono not only successfully navigated the several turns of the road course but also avoided obstacles, some of which were stationary and some of which were thrown into his path at random from a van driving in front of him. Later he successfully passed the van without collision. The Daytona event was part of research project called The NFB Blind Driver Challenge, which challenged universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to build ... keep reading »
tech January 30, 2011

Man Breaks World Record for Fastest Hands-Free Typing

In an astonishing feat that underscores the power of technology to enable people with disabilities, software engineer Hank Torres took the stage at the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference on Friday and typed a sentence without the use of his hands in just over a minute, beating the clock to win the Guinness World Record. Torres, who is a quadriplegic and does not have the use of his hands, typed his way to triumph using Swype, a gesture-based keyboard, and Tracker Pro, a head-operated mouse that follows the movement of a reflective dot on his eyeglasses and allows him to point and click to replace a normal computer mouse. Torres used Tracker to input the word patterns on a Swype keyboard, and though it took three tries, he wowed the audience with his almost perfect rendering of a sentence about piranhas in 83.09 seconds. “Swype has opened a whole new road ... keep reading »
tech January 25, 2011

Integralift: A Universally Designed Bed Lift

Five years ago, two Norwegian entrepreneurs, Svein Idso and Skjalg Aabakken, attended Rehacare in Dusseldorf — one of the largest exhibitors of assistive technologies — to look for a suitable patient lift that would work in Idso’s 10th floor apartment. Aabakken, and Isdo, who is a wheelchair user, couldn’t find what they needed. Even the best designed ceiling lifts looked like a “power tool … and why would anyone want a power tool hanging over their bed?”, asked Aabakken. So Aabakken, a product developer and designer who has created products ranging from stoves to remote controls for older people, and Idso wanted to create a brand-new lift. In Norway, the government delivers health and home care to every person who needs it. They talked to nurses, who told them the barriers they face when trying to help transfer patients from their bed to their wheelchair and vice versa. First, the big sling ... keep reading »
Life January 14, 2011

DOJ Settles Disability Lawsuit With Private School Network

The Justice Department today announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act against Nobel Learning Communities, Inc. (NLC), a private, for-profit entity that operates a nationwide network of more than 180 preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools. These entities operate in the District of Columbia and in 15 states (Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington) under a variety of names, including Chesterbrook Academy, Merryhill School and Evergreen Academy, among others. In its lawsuit, filed in April 2009 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Justice Department alleged that NLC violated Title III of the ADA by excluding from its programs children with disabilities, including some children with autism spectrum disorder, Down Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and global developmental delays. NLC denies the allegations. “It is illegal under the ADA ... keep reading »
tech January 13, 2011

Purple Launches Real-Time Phone Captions Service

Don’t you hate it when you can’t hear people on the phone? Purple Communications has just launched a great solution for deaf and hard of hearing people. Purple has launched ClearCaptions, an online and real-time telephone captioning service that takes all the guesswork out of phone conversations. While still in beta, the new service utilizes a relay operator, known as a Communications Assistant, who lives behind the scenes of your call, and silently translates the conversation — in real time — onto your computer screen, smartphone, iPhone, iTouch or iPad — basically any device with an Internet connection. The person on the other end of the line never knows that you’re getting much-needed assistance, but you’ll be able to carry on a chat better than ever before. Because the calls are secure and considered confidential — the Federal Communications Commission ensures that relay calls are treated the same as regular voice calls ... keep reading »
Blog January 11, 2011

EEOC Disability Claims Hit Record High in 2010

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission today announced that private sector workplace discrimination charge filings hit unprecedented levels during fiscal year 2010. The EEOC, the federal agency enforcing employment discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, saw 99,922 filings, a 7% increase from last year and a 25% increase from 2000. According to the EEOC, all major categories of charge filings in the private sector, which include charges filed against state and local governments, increased, including disability, age, race, religion and retaliation. The EEOC filed 250 lawsuits, resolved 285 lawsuits, and resolved 104,999 private sector charges, resulting in more than $404 million in monetary benefits from employers. Disability filings have risen sharply in the last decade, likely due to increased awareness of the ADA which was signed into law 20 years ago. There were 25,165 charges alleging discrimination under the ADA, up 4% from 2009 and up 59% from ... keep reading »
Blog December 27, 2010

Warning Signs for Would-Be Deaf Divers

If you came across the Sunday New York Times‘ Travel section this week, you may have read the can-do article, Deaf Divers Sign in the Soundless Depths. Worldwide Dive and Sail is one of a handful of companies that organizes regular scuba diving tips for deaf and hard of hearing divers. This story is a great example of people with disabilities who accomplish feats like exotic water sports, and I thought it was great that Siren offered sign language interpreters as well as expeditions in which deaf and hearing divers could mingle. After all, when you’re swimming with the fishes in the cold, deep sea, no talking is allowed — and deaf people who sign actually have an advantage over hearing divers. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t call out something that my surgeon told me upon receiving my own cochlear implant in 2002: Don’t participate in “pressure” sports like ... keep reading »
tech December 22, 2010

For the Disabled, Kinect Shows Possibilities

Microsoft’s Kinect is now out in time for the holidays. Kinect has some features that make it accessible to disabled gamers and others. But is it worth it? To start, movement-based gaming systems like Kinect are not going to work very well for people who can’t move, because the nature of the games is to encourage activity, says Ablegamers founder Mark Barlet, who has written a two-part piece on its experience with the new gaming system. This relates to people who use a wheelchair and, in particular, who do not have the use of their upper bodies. If you are a C3-C4 quad, the Kinect is going to be as accessible as the Wii and Playstation Move are to you right now,” he says. One of the best additions that Kinect brings to disabled gamers is voice control, which lets users with mobility impairments speak commands without a controller. Unlike the PlayStation ... keep reading »
tech December 22, 2010

NAD Opposes Netflix “Deaf Tax”

The National Association of the Deaf sent another letter to Netflix on Friday addressing concerns about Netflix’s new pricing plan for its Watch Instantly movies, which the deaf community says amounts to a “deaf tax.” NAD also requests, again, that Netflix caption all of its Internet movies and provide an easy way to search for movies that are already captioned. In November, Netflix announced in The Wall Street Journal that it would offer an Internet-only subscription service plan for less money than its DVD-by-mail plan. Netflix says it believes the $600 million it will save annually on mailing DVDs can instead go towards securing better content deals and go head-to-head with Hulu as well as HBO. In this move, accessibility takes a steep dive. Netflix’s DVDs have captions or subtitles prepared and supplied for them by the major studios and their distributors. Movies in Netflix’s Internet library are not captioned, with the ... keep reading »
Blog December 17, 2010

Five minutes of Fame at DOJ Hearing

Department of Justice Hearing, Washington, D.C. (12/2010) (with captions). Suzanne appears at 178 minutes speaking to the Department about the issue of online video accessibility. The Department of Justice hearing went really well; thanks to everyone for their support. Michael and I arrived in the afternoon to a rare Washington snowstorm, grabbed a quick bite at Corner Bakery and then headed over to the U.S. Access Board, where the meeting was being held. Access Board helps create guidelines for the accessible design of buildings, equipment, technology and more. I ran into David Capozzi, executive director of the Access Board and was able to give him a copy of my paper. The hearing room was smaller than I expected it to be; there were four panelists including John Wodatch, chief of the Disabilities Rights Section at the Department’s Civil Rights Division. I spoke for five minutes, and hadn’t prepared any comments in ... keep reading »
Blog December 16, 2010

Read Our White Paper on Video Accessibility!

  Today abledbody released a new white paper which takes a look at the current state of video accessibility in the context of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which was signed into law this past October by President Obama. It assesses the scope of the new law and its limitations, and what needs to be done in the future to make the rest of the online video programming landscape accessible to people with disabilities. The white paper, written by Suzanne Robitaille and Michael Janger, can be accessed here, or click on the image on the left. Suzanne will speak this afternoon at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Department of Justice. The public hearing will cover possible revisions to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, including Web accessibility, movie captioning and video description — the same topics covered by our white paper. Department of Justice Hearing, ... keep reading »
work December 8, 2010

Labor Dept. Launches Database of Disabled Job Hunters

By Suzanne Robitaille - UPDATED - This morning I received a call from Kathleen Lee, who works in Human Resources at Earnworks, which is housed at Cornell University’s Institute of Labor Relations. Lee called in response to my submission last night looking for an intern for abledbody.com. I had been unsure about whether anyone was going to get back to me, and was thrilled to hear from Earnworks so quickly. Lee asked me a few questions about my needs for an online publishing intern, and says she is going to look into students and recent grads at Connecticut-area schools to see if there’s a match. Lee’s source is the Department of Labors’ newly launched database of more than 2,500 college and entry-level students with disabilities, which is part of the government’s efforts to increase federal and private-sector initiatives to source and hire workers with disabilities. The program supports President Obama’s executive order ... keep reading »
tech December 8, 2010

ABC, Comcast and COAT Top Video Captions Panel

The Federal Communications Commission appointed a mixture of media behemoths, including ABC and Comcast, and top disability advocates to serve on its new Video Programming and Emergency Access Advisory Committee (VPEAAC). The 45-member committee will guide FCC policy on captions and audio descriptions for video programming and emergency services that are delivered over the Internet. Following the passage of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which President Obama signed on October 8, the FCC announced the creation of VPEAAC. Among the many provisions of the law, all broadcast and cable networks must, by 2012, include closed captions on over-the-Web programming for the deaf and hearing impaired, and require a small amount of audio descriptions for the blind and visually impaired. As such, programs like Dancing with the Stars and Glee must be captioned when shown over the Web. Non-commercial programming, such as YouTube videos, are exempt. The VPEAAC ... keep reading »
Tech Talk November 18, 2010

Review: Kindle 3 for visually impaired users

[By Michael Crossland] I have reviewed several electronic readers to determine whether they are useful for people with low vision (see my reviews of the Kindle 2; Sony Reader; and the iPad). Amazon have recently released a new version of the Kindle that is known as Kindle 3. A noticable feature about the new Kindle is how small and light it is. Before my Kindle arrived I saw an older man in the waiting area outside our low vision clinic reading one with a Keeler segment (a small high powered spectacle lens, which requires text to be held a couple of inches from the face). He remarked how easy it was to hold the Kindle at 5cm (about two inches) for a prolonged period of time, unlike a heavier book or larger newspaper. Amazon claims that the screen has higher contrast as well. I was skeptical about this claim but measured the Michelson ... keep reading »
Blog November 18, 2010

Understanding Assistive Technology (Video)

Here’s a simple, quick video that really does the trick in explaining what assistive technology is, who uses it, and how to get your hands on some. It’s put together nicely by The PACER Simon Technology Center and includes closed captions as well as a neat interactive transcript. keep reading »
tech November 15, 2010

NCTI: The Power of Open

Open source development is changing the face of education today for students with special needs. Just ask Jim Fruchterman, founder and CEO of Bookshare, a nonprofit that converts textbooks into digital formats for people with print disabilities, including vision loss and dyslexia. Fruchterman talked about how open source technologies are helping programmers to enhance existing and emerging education tools to build more accessibility features into them. It allows organizations like Bookshare to adapt a printed textbook into an audio or Braille file “with the push of a button.” Gregg Vanderheiden, director at the Trace R&D Center at the University of Wisconsin, considers accessibility to be a right. Through his Raising the Floor initiative, Vanderheiden is pushing for access to computers and the Internet to be built-in to mainstream hardware and software so the systems will be able to adapt to users needs without extra cost to the user. He envisions, say, an ... keep reading »
Life November 15, 2010

NCTI: Sesame Workshop’s Inclusive World

Gary E. Knell is president and CEO of the New York-headquarted Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit organization that works to create innovative, engaging content for children via its popular Sesame Street programming and health and literacy initiatives. Knell has been instrumental in globalizing Sesame Street, and also helped found PBS Kids Sprout, a 24-hour cable channel. Now in Season 41, Sesame Street has evolved to bring literacy and learning skills to kids through the use of innovative content that capitalizes on new technologies such as e-books and online games. And he discusses the wide use of mobile devices on which both kids and parents learn and play. Knell says special education and inclusion is just one part of bringing together all kids from all walks of life for more meaningful learning experiences. “We’re at a crossroads of education in 2010 and have an opportunity to transform learning,” he says. Here’s a video with Big ... keep reading »
Blog November 15, 2010

NCTI: Making Learning More Accessible

I’m here at the National Center for Technology Innovation‘s annual conference in Washington. NCTI is a research center funded by the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, and works to advances learning opportunities for individuals with disabilities through the use of innovative technologies. After an introduction by the NCTI’s director, Tracy Gray, we were treated to an excellent keynote address by Milton Chen, who is the executive director emeritus of the George Lucas Education Foundation. Chen called the last decade of education a “lost” one, but says the nation is finally coming into 21st century learning. Based on his new best-selling book, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools, Chen explored how media and technology can spark innovation to redefine teaching and learning for all students and communities. Technology is the way we can become an education nation, Chen says, because it allows us to ... keep reading »
Blog November 9, 2010

Pepsi Gives $500,000 to Disabled Vets MBA Program

PepsiCo, through its Dream Machine recycling initiative, has made a $500,000 donation to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, a national program offering career training, education and job creation for post-9/11 U.S. veterans with disabilities. PepsiCo presented the donation this past weekend during a ceremony at Syracuse University, home to the Whitman School of Management, where the EBV program was founded. PepsiCo says it will make a minimum contribution to Entrepreneurship Bootcamp of $500,000 per year over the next several years. To encourage recycling, Pepsi will also contribute an additional $250,000 to the program for every 10 million pounds of recycled material collected in Dream Machine kiosks and bins, which can be found in 14 states at high-traffic locations such as gas stations, shopping malls, sports arenas and university campuses. “Through the Dream Machine program, PepsiCo is playing a direct role in helping our veterans with disabilities realize the most American ... keep reading »
tech November 9, 2010

Nuance and WGBH Team Up on Captions Accuracy Project

Nuance Communications and WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media have teamed up on a project to develop a prototype system that will automatically evaluate the accuracy of real-time captions for live news programming, and hopefully improve on live captions for deaf and hearing-impaired viewers. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Caption Accuracy Metrics project will identify and weigh the impact of different kinds of errors in closed captions, which the organizations believe will help improve the way captions are produced and presented for the news and other live programs by real-time captioners called stenocaptioners. NCAM staff recently convened a technical review panel of major stakeholders in caption quality at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York. Representatives from broadcast and cable networks, caption agencies, deaf education experts, and the National Court Reporters Association discussed the value of the project’s work to their organizations. In addition, the FCC ... keep reading »
Blog November 4, 2010

Apple Makes Room for Special Education Apps

Apple has created a section in its App Store called “Special Education” to recognize the increasing number of apps for people with disabilities, including learning disorders and non-verbal autism. Launched last week, the app shelf includes 72 applications for the iPhone and 13 applications for the iPad in 10 categories of disability and special needs from literacy and learning to language development to communications. In fact, this category spans much farther than education to include apps for adults to aid in work and play. At the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference in Chicago last week, tablets and applications took the industry by storm. The iPad, iPhone and iTouch, for example, are three mainstream technologies that have access already built in, and adding specialized apps for people with disabilities is creating skyrocketing demand for these devices. Apple also has a page listing many third-party hardware solutions for people with disabilities who use these ... keep reading »
Life November 3, 2010

Elections Are a Mixed Bag for Disabled

Many local, state and national level positions were up for grab last night. Republicans captured the House but fell short in the Senate. Republicans scored the biggest party turnover in more than 70 years with their win in the House and, in doing so, will boot Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who became the first female Speaker of the House four years ago. For many people with disabilities, Election Day is a form of advocacy. There are 35 million Americans with disabilities of voting age, and 25 million are registered to vote. Tuesday’s results could have ramifications for national healthcare reform, among other issues pertinent to the disability population. Rhode Island Representative Jim Langevin won a sixth term in Congress. Langevin is a Democrat who is paralyzed from the chest down due to a gunfire accident as a teenager. He’s the only quadriplegic in the U.S. House of Representatives and has been ... keep reading »
Blog November 2, 2010

Take the $1,000 Cloud Computing Challenge

What is your vision of how cloud computing can create new opportunities for people with disabilities? The Federal Communications Commission wants to pay you for your thoughts. The challenge: Create an accessible multimedia presentation that shows what could be possible using the computing and communication power now available via the Internet, and you could win $1,000. Sponsored by the FCC, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, and Raising the Floor, entries will help to provide direction and motivation to policy makers, software developers, and members of the public who want to foster more independence in life, and greater integration in society, for people with disabilities. The FCC is particularly looking for video presentations that demonstrate cloud computing ideas. All presentations should support the viewing of English captions and the operation of controls with a screen reader for people who are blind. Adding video description for the blind is also desirable, but can ... keep reading »
Blog November 2, 2010

Implant Helps Blind See Shapes in Trial

Scientists have developed an eye implant that allowed three blind patients to see shapes and objects and say the device could become routine for some kinds of inherited blindness, according to Reuters. Experts described the trial study results as phenomenal and said the device, developed by German researchers, could eventually change the lives of up to 200,000 people worldwide who suffer from blindness due to a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. The device — known as a sub-retinal implant — sits underneath the retina and works by directly replacing light receptors that are lost as a result of the disease. It uses the eye’s natural image-processing functions to produce a stable visual image. Eberhart Zrenner, chairman of the University of Tuebingen Eye Hospital in Germany and director of a small company called Retinal Implant AG which is developing the device, said the trial results would now be taken into further trials in ... keep reading »
tech November 1, 2010

ATIA’s Dikter: What’s New in Assistive Tech

David Dikter is the chief executive officer of the Assistive Technology Industry Association, a post he has held for the last nine years after spending nearly two decades in Boston’s school system. At the ATIA’s conference in Chicago this week, attended by more than 1,500 people, Dikter talked with abledbody.com about new developments in assistive technology and why vendors are learning to embrace mainstream gadgets like the Droid and the iPad. Q: David, what’s new in ATIA this year? A: Definitely the mobile devices and applications, like the iPad. We’re really also getting to the point where mobile products can help people with severe disabilities, like intellectual disabilities. They’re helping people communicate tremendously. And we’re also seeing a push with learning and education tools for people on the autism spectrum. Assistive technology vendors are starting to embrace mainstream gadgets and develop apps that specifically work for people with disabilities. They’re getting creative ... keep reading »
tech October 29, 2010

The iPad Rules at ATIA 2010

At the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference in Chicago this week, tablets and applications are taking the industry by storm. The iPad, iPhone and iTouch, for example, are three mainstream technologies that have access already built in. The bonus? Assistive technology vendors can now develop new specialized apps for people with disabilities that work seamlessly with these hot-off-the-shelf gadgets. As more consumer products make headway in the assistive technology space, “buy-in” is on the rise — and is changing the field of rehabilitation, says Laura Plummer, a rehabilitation technologist and sensory specialist at Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Plummer says there’s a new way to weigh whether someone will fully use and interact with a device, or leave it in the desk drawer. It’s called the Acceptability Factor, and follows other, older criteria, like the Bootstrap Factor (“Well, might as well make do with this thing”), the Carrot ... keep reading »
Life October 25, 2010

Five Tips for Disabled Job Hunters

Job seekers with disabilities have it tough. Only 21 percent of disabled working-age Americans had a job in the past year – that’s compared to 59 percent of non-disabled Americans. Here are some tips to help job seekers with disabilities find meaningful work. 1. Use your state employment agency. Every state in the U.S. and Puerto Rico has a vocational rehabilitation agency that holds a list of job openings and can help you get interviews. Agencies often partner with certain companies that want to hire this group. They can provide job training and even pay for assistive technologies that help you perform your job. To find your state agency and other resources go to Think Beyond the Label, a campaign funded by more than 30 states that’s designed to get businesses to hire people with disabilities. 2. Surf disability specific job boards. Private sector job boards have listings from companies that ... keep reading »
Life October 11, 2010

Armless Pianist Wins “China’s Got Talent”

A musician who lost both arms in a childhood accident and plays the piano with his toes has won “China’s Got Talent,” performing his version of James Blunt’s wistful love song “You’re Beautiful” to a packed audience at the Shanghai Stadium, according to the Associated Press. All three judges on the show Sunday praised 23-year-old Liu Wei for his determination, urging him to keep on pursuing his dreams, and the Beijing native said he would try, quipping, “At least I have a pair of perfect legs.” For winning the Chinese version of the show that helped make Britain’s Susan Boyle a singing star, Liu will be invited to play as a guest performer with Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai. He also has the chance for a performing contract. Liu’s arms were amputated after he suffered an electrical shock while playing hide-and-seek when he was 10. At age 18, he decided to pursue a career ... keep reading »
Blog October 6, 2010

Few Companies Hire Disabled, Survey Says

A new survey sponsored by Kessler Foundation and National Organization on Disability finds that although corporations recognize that hiring employees with disabilities is important, most are hiring very few of these job seekers and few are proactively making efforts to improve the employment environment. These results, from the Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disability 2010 Survey of Employment of Americans with Disabilities conducted by Harris Interactive, are especially important given the focus on employment by media and government and with October recognized as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Data released in July 2010 from an earlier study, the Kessler Foundation/NOD Survey of Americans with Disabilities, found that little progress has been made in closing the employment gap between people with and without disabilities since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. In fact, only 21 percent of people with disabilities, ages 18 to 64, reported that they are working ... keep reading »
Blog October 6, 2010

Closed-Captioning, CART Jobs to Grow Under New Law

When President Obama signs the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act into law on Friday, millions of citizens who are deaf or hard-of-hearing ultimately will have new-found access to video programming on the Internet through closed captioning. Working behind the scenes to make captioning of live Internet broadcasts possible will be realtime court reporters who serve as broadcast captioners, translating speech to text at speeds of 225 words per minute or faster. This new law will require any and every video that, first, is broadcast on television and, then, distributed via the Internet to include closed captioning. Additionally, devices that display video such as smart phones, mp3 players, and DVRs must be capable of closed captioning and displaying video description and emergency alerts. For the large and growing amount of video content that will be broadcast live in the years ahead — on television and over the Internet — ... keep reading »
Life September 26, 2010

The Real Paterson Dishes Blind Jokes on SNL

David Paterson, the governor of New York who is blind, appeared on Saturday Night Live to rebut jokes about his disability and offer a few lines of his own. Huffington Post covered the story, saying Paterson appeared on set next to Fred Armisen (who plays the role of the governor), and said he has “a good sense of humor but jokes about the disabled are ‘sophomoric and stupid.’” Agreed, they are. But most of SNL’s jokes are pretty stupid, and making fun of Paterson for being blind is kind of a non-starter. The guy is blind and governs the state of New York. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Paterson has risen above his disability and went onto live T.V. to tell everyone that people with disabilities can and do lead every day. That’s a message we need to continue to spread, even if it takes a few dumb ... keep reading »
Blog September 21, 2010

Pepsi Refreshes Its Disability Employee Network

I’ve spoken a lot about PepsiCo and its EnAble employee network for people with different abilities. Under direction from CEO Indra Nooyi, the consumer food and beverage company is out to deliver shareholder growth through its Performance with Purpose principles. The goal is to “improve all aspects of the world in which [Pepsi] operates – environmental, societal and economical – to make the world a better place.” Attracting and retaining the best talent is among those goals, as is creating a more sustainable environment and healthier snacks. Other corporations see EnAble as a vibrant, respected employee network. Recently they’ve been using the program to reach consumers and the marketplace, says Ron Parker, SVP, Global Diversity and Inclusion at PepsiCo, speaking at the U.S. Business Leadership Network conference in Chicago. I think this is a really smart idea, as employee networks have the power to touch many more people, such as parents, caregivers ... keep reading »
Life September 16, 2010

A Deaf Diplomat Fights A Pound Foolish Move

Even in the upper e]]>recently had her promotion revoked after officials ruled that her deafness would make it too expensive to send her abroad. Jane Cordell, who was to be Britain’s new deputy ambassador to Kazakhstan, is now suing the government for discrimination, saying that it’s the only way she can get clarity on her career. “We need answers to the question, ‘Can [people with disabilities] expect to have normal diplomatic careers, or not?’” she tells The Independent. These days, more clarity on accommodations would be good, too. The Americans with Disabilities Act say an employer has discretion to choose among effective ‘reasonable accommodations’. Similarly, the U.K.’s Disabilities Discrimination Act requires employers to make so-called ‘reasonable adjustments,’ but the term is not defined in existing legislation. Over and over, employers fail to see how hiring and accommodating an employee with a disability is good business. Perhaps nobody has taken the time to spell ... keep reading »
Blog September 15, 2010

My Book Is #1 on Amazon’s Assistive Tech List

Great news! My book, The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology and Devices, is now the bestselling book on Amazon’s Assistive Technology List. My publisher, Demos Health, calls the book a primer on assistive tech that cuts through the clutter surrounding assistive devices with a simple conversational style. It’s organized according to disability and easily explains the best type of device for a multiple situations, home, work, on the road, or at school. In a press release today, Demos says “this book has been universally praised by everyone from David Ditker, Executive Director of the Assistive Technology Industry Association who said it “… should be on the Top Ten list of anyone interested in Assistive Technology products” to Frances West, with the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center, who said the book “combines research and personal insight to help even the most novice user make better, more informed choices about assistive technology.” In November, ... keep reading »
Blog September 13, 2010

Join a Free Assistive Tech Seminar

Calling all disabled job seekers, including veterans. Join in on a free teleseminar on Thursday, Sept. 16 on the new role of assistive technology in the workplace. Sponsored by The Sierra Group’s One More Way collaborative, this teleseminar is free to job hunters with disabilities. (The Sierra Group also has a great job board.) Abledbody is an affiliate sponsor of this terrific event, where Janet Fiore, CEO of The Sierra Group, will talk about how employers can use assistive technology to hire and support qualified candidates with disabilities. Job seekers and employers will learn the four elements that support and allow for creative accommodation solutions, as well as current trends in accommodation solutions utilizing state-of-the-art technologies. Fiore will also bring up the need to broaden the reach of current workplace technologies to assist people with disabilities, such as with the iPad or smart phone. She’ll be joined by guest experts, ... keep reading »
Blog August 26, 2010

Labor Stats Tank, But Here’s the Good News on Disabilities

Two years ago the government began collecting data on disabilities and employment as part of the U.S. Census. The information collected helped the Labor Department to create the first-ever report on the employment landscape for the 27 million working-age Americans with disabilities. Not surprisingly, the outlook is bleak, as reported in today’s Wall Street Journal. Most of us are pretty familiar with the numbers. In 2009, the average unemployment rate for disabled workers was 14.5%, vs. 9 % for those without disabilities. The study shows that people with disabilities are much more likely to be older, or work only part-time, than people without disabilities. (Read the full release here). The Labor Department’s report mirrors the 2010 Kessler Foundation and National Organization on Disability Survey on Americans with Disabilities that was released in July and timed to the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the civil rights law that is designed ... keep reading »
Life August 21, 2010

Sizing up Disability In the Media

After disabled model Tanja Kiewitz got the courage to pose with her missing limb to recreate Eva Herzigova’s infamous Wonderbra ad, she thanked her friends and “a couple of glasses of wine,” according to Huffington Post. You might remember Herzigova: A voluptuous brunette wearing nothing but a black brassiere dares readers with the caption: “Look me in the eyes … I said the eyes.” Likewise, readers can’t keep their eyes off Kiewitz’s arm, which ends at the elbow — but that’s O.K. It’s for a good cause, as she’s working to raise money for Belgian disability awareness group CAP48. In what the disability community has been saying all along, Kiewitz told The GlobalPost in an interview that “it would be good if handicapped people started to be used to advertise other things.” (Handicapped is a term commonly used in Europe). “Why shouldn’t somebody with a disability be a model? It ... keep reading »
Blog August 11, 2010

AbleGamers Paves the Way for Gamers with Disabilities

CNN’s Gary Tuchman reports about Mark Barlet, founder of The AbleGamers Foundation, which seeks to make games accessible for people with disabilities. Barlet and AbleGamers.com assistant editor Steve Spohn tell CNN about the complex but exciting world of accessible video gaming, which includes adaptations like a Wii controller for the head, large-button switches, and joysticks that are driven by a puff of breath. Related article: NYC Mayor Hosts Disabilities Awards keep reading »
Blog August 11, 2010

NYC Mayor Hosts Disabilities Awards

Last night at Gracie Mansion, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg held an event to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I accepted an award on behalf of The AbleGamers Foundation, of which I am a board member. (Congrats, AbleGamers!!) While sitting up on stage as the Mayor gave his speech, I looked around the room for CART services. Figuring they didn’t offer CART, I tried to follow the sign-language interpreter. About halfway into the program I happened to look up: CART was on the ceiling!! I must have looked terribly foolish stretching my neck to read the Mayor’s words upside down. But I don’t think he noticed. The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, led by Commissioner Matthew Sapolin, holds this event each year to recognize individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to increasing accessibility for people with disabilities. Says Bloomberg: ... keep reading »
tech August 3, 2010

Intel and GE Team Up to Make Home Health Devices

Intel and General Electric are creating a new company that will provide medical care and assistive technologies to the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, according to BusinessWeek. Intel and GE hope to bring more health care devices into homes, which they say will help lower health care costs and increase the quality of life for those living with disability, chronic illnesses like diabetes and age-related diseases such as Alzheimers. “Chronic conditions account for more than 75 percent of health care spending in the U.S.,” says Omar Ishrak, senior vice president of GE and president and CEO of GE Healthcare Systems. Intel has been making its foray into the heath devices field, and in November 2009 launched the Intel Reader, an device that combines a high-resolution camera and optical character recognition to take a picture of a book – and read it aloud — to people with vision impairments and learning disorders. ... keep reading »
Blog August 2, 2010

Labor Dept. Grants $2 Million for ‘Add Us In’ Program

The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy is offering $2.3 million to fund Add Us In, a program that works to increase the ability of businesses owned, operated and controlled by minorities to employ more people with disabilities. The minority groups include African Americans; Asian Americans; Latino or Hispanic Americans; members of federally recognized Tribes and Native Americans; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals; and women. According to ODEOP, grant recipients will create replicable models that can be used by targeted businesses and associations of targeted businesses nationwide to reach out to people with disabilities in their communities, which can lead to improved employment outcomes for people with disabilities in these communities. Overall, the unemployment rate for those with disabilities is around 14 percent, compared with 10 percent for persons with no disability. Researchers say minorities with disabilities are often at increased risk for unemployment. Among racial and ethnic groups, the ... keep reading »
Blog August 2, 2010

New Army Policy Helps Soldiers with TBI

A new policy aims to help soldiers minimize the effects mild traumatic brain injuries, or mTBI. The U.S. Army says that any soldier who sustains a direct blow to the head or loss of consciousness, or is within 50 meters of a blast must undergo a medical evaluation, followed by 24 hours of downtime and medical clearance before returning to duty. The rule also applies to soldiers who are in a vehicle associated with a blast event, collision, or rollover, or in a building that has been damaged by a blast or accident. Comprehensive medical evaluations are mandatory for anyone sustaining three concussions within 12 months. Mild traumatic brain injuries are more commonly known as concussions. Explosions on the battlefield often cause these injuries, but they also can occur through falls, sports injuries, auto accidents or any other event resulting in a blow to the head. Research shows that concussions are overwhelmingly ... keep reading »
tech August 2, 2010

A Cautious Hooray for Captions

Amid all the Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary celebrations last week, it’s worth noting that the U.S. House passed a bill that’s crucial to the deaf and hard of hearing population. H.R. 3101 would extend protections from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — the law that made closed captioning on T.V. mandatory — to the Internet. H.R. 3101 requires, with few exceptions, any T.V., cable or satellite program that airs with closed-captions to be also captioned on the Web. It encompasses websites like Hulu.com (owned by NBC) and ABC.com. Captions must be displayed on all devices that show television programs, regardless of size, which includes smart phones like the iPhone. Unfortunately, H.R. 3101, which is also known as also known as the 21st Century Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act, has been watered down from its original version. No longer will web-exclusive programming be required to have captions. Exempt from the bill are ... keep reading »
Blog July 28, 2010

Obama on ADA: “You Refused to Accept the World as It Was”

President Obama’s remarks at the White House on Monday celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act were eloquent, passionate and memorable. Speaking after performances by Patti Labelle and Marlee Matlin, Obama thanked the champions of the original ADA — signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 — for passing what he calls one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in the history of this country. After giving a nod to those who have died while working to advance the disability cause, namely Senator Ted Kennedy and Justin Dart, known as the the father of the ADA, Obama commemorated what the ADA has accomplished so far. “It was about the young girl in Washington State who just wanted to see a movie at her hometown theater, but was turned away because she had cerebral palsy; or the young man in Indiana who showed up at a ... keep reading »
Blog July 27, 2010

Obama Announces Revised ADA Regulations

Working with the Department of Justice, President Obama announced two final rules that will amend Americans with Disabilities Act regulations that relate to Title II and Title III of the law. The changes will improve access to programs and services for people with disabilities, such as at baseball games and public swimming pools. Under the rule, recreational facilities, including swimming pools, playgrounds, golf courses, amusement rides, recreational boating facilities, exercise machines and equipment, miniature golf courses and fishing piers will have to adopt accessible design standards. Buildings that already comply with the 1991 ADA standards for accessible design would not be required to be brought into compliance with the new rules until the facility undergoes a planned alteration. Additionally, wheelchairs and scooters must be permitted in all areas open to pedestrian use. The department also has added provisions that provide guidance on the sale of tickets for accessible seating at stadiums and theaters. ... keep reading »
Life July 26, 2010

Obama Signs Executive Order to Hire More Federal Workers with Disabilities

In front of invited guests including Cabinet officials, Members of Congress, grassroots leaders and Americans living with disabilities, President Obama commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the White House South Lawn today. “I see so many champions of this law here today,” says President Obama.”I want to thank all of you … who have helped advance the spirit of the law.” Obama says he wants to help those who have been turned away for jobs or services, like going to the movies, due to disabilities. People with disabilities “refused to accept the word ‘no’ … “and progress was born,” he says. Obama’s father, he says, suffered from Multiple Sclerosis and got up earlier than others to get to work, but never missed a day, Obama says. The President also signed an Executive Order to increase federal employment of individuals with disabilities.The Executive Order fulfills a pledge by the President to ... keep reading »
Life July 26, 2010

Labor Dept.: Reversing Work Trends for People with Disabilities

Kathy Martinez is assistant secretary, Office of Disability Employment Policy, for the Department of Labor. A long-time disability advocate, Martinez, who is blind, spoke at the National Council on Disability’s national policy summit on what her office is doing to make sure more jobs go to people with disabilities. On working in Washington: It’s great to have [Hilda] Solis as my boss. I feel like we are woven into the fabric of the Department of Labor. We’re not sitting in the corner downstairs. On the job landscape for people with disabilities: Many people have given up looking for jobs. They believe they’ll lose their benefits if they go back to work. The labor statistics for June show that 14% of people with disabilities are unemployed vs. only 9% for people without disabilities. We need to create an “encouraged worker effect” to reverse the trend of discouraging workers from returning to the labor force. How ODEP ... keep reading »
Life July 26, 2010

Yahoo!, Congress, DOJ Chart New Course for ADA

As the nation celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, both private and public organization are making efforts to show their initiatives. Yahoo! today announced its new accessibility blog, led in part by Alan Brightman, who works on accessibility issues at the Internet company. The National Council on Disability has gathered a group of 500 people and partners from 48 states to its policy summit on disabilities. The summit wants to encourage a national dialogue on disability policies and programs in the 21st century. Later today there will be a celebration at the White House, with President Obama marking the ADA’s anniversary. There will be performances by Patti LaBelle, Marlee Matlin and others. The celebration, which begins at 5:30 p.m., will be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live The House is expected today to take up H.R. 3101, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009, a bill ... keep reading »
Blog July 25, 2010

ADA Anniversary Celebrations Start!

I’m in Washington this week as a delegate to the National Council on Disability’s National Summit on Disability Policy 2010. NCD and its delegates will join with group of federal partners, Congress, and disability community stakeholders to launch a national dialogue on disability policies and programs in the 21st century. This year’s theme is Living, Learning, and Earning, and Monday’s session will focus on technology, healthcare reform, emergency management and disability rights. Many of the participants will head over to the White House on Monday for a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the South Lawn. The event, which starts at 5:30 p.m., will include remarks by President Obama and performances by by Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Patti LaBelle and Marlee Matlin. Also, on Monday check out the Today Show at 8:45 am ET; the always smiling Bonnie St. John will appear to discuss the results ... keep reading »
Blog July 25, 2010

DOJ Promises “Renewed” Focus on Disabilities

The Department of Justice celebrated the American with Disabilities Act’s 20th Anniversary, with Attorney General Eric Holder speaking about the ADA. Holder says that over the past two decades, the law has “helped create revolutionary improvements in the lives of Americans with disabilities … [and] helped improve our society’s understanding of what Americans with disabilities could accomplish when given the chance to participate on equal terms.” Holder says the Department of Justice has placed a renewed focus on enforcing the ADA, including settling discrimination lawsuits against people with disabilities and advocating for more in-home health care. More importantly, the Justice Department says it will soon publish four notices regarding accessibility requirements for websites, movie theaters, equipment and furniture, and 911 call-taking technologies. That means that movies may be required to display, at least at certain times, closed-captions for the deaf and audio descriptions for the blind. Currently, movie theaters in the U.S. ... keep reading »
Blog July 16, 2010

FCC To Launch Accessibility Forum at ADA Celebration

For the rest of the month I’ll be devoting some of my blog to announcing nationwide events that are taking place to celebrate the American with Disabilities Act’s 20th anniversary. The Federal Communications Commission is inviting the public to mark the American with Disabilities Act’s 20th anniversary in Washington. On July 19, the FCC will hold a Technology Showcase from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Commerce Department Main Foyer. More than 50 exhibitors have been invited to demonstrate their accessible technologies. Also, an ADA Celebration Program in the Commerce Department Auditorium from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m will include welcoming remarks from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, presentation of an original video chronicling personal stories about the impact of technology on people with disabilities, performances by Gallaudet University performers, and a reception. The FCC will introduce a new forum to discuss accessibility issues for people with disabilities. The Accessibility and Innovation ... keep reading »
tech July 16, 2010

Robotic Suit Helps Paralyzed Walk Again

A New Zealand company has invented a pair of bionic legs that allows a paraplegic to walk again. Rex, the Robotic Exoskeleton, is the brainchild of Auckland inventors Richard Little and Robert Irving, both who have mothers who use wheelchairs. Irving also found out seven years ago that he has Multiple Sclerosis, a nerve disease that can cause partial or complete loss of the muscles. In the five-minute video, we see Hayden Allen, who lost use of his legs due to a spinal cord, transfer himself from his manual wheelchair into the Rex suit. We watch Allen stand, walk and even climb steps, though Allen looks perfectly happy just standing still after five years of mostly sitting in a chair. “I’ll never forget what it was like to see my feet walking under me the first time I used Rex,” Hayden says in the video. “People say to me, ‘look up when ... keep reading »
Blog July 16, 2010

Deaf Get Mobile Relay with iPhone’s FaceTime App

Apple’s Facetime feature for the iPhone 4 is already making waves in the deaf community because for the first time, two deaf people can use sign language to communicate with each other. FaceTime also lets hearing-impaired people supplement voice calls with video; features like lip-reading and facial expressions go a long way in aiding such calls. Now the FaceTime app just got a whole lot more exciting for the Deaf community. Apple has teamed up with ZVRS, a company that provides video relay services. Essentially, ZVRS uses human operators who are hearing and also fluent in American Sign Language. Thus, a Deaf person calls the ZVRS operator — known as a Communications Assistant — and he or she translates a conversation between a deaf and hearing caller using both voice and sign. Why is this so great? In the past deaf people have had to either buy a video cam or ... keep reading »
News Watch July 16, 2010

Braun Launches Two New Accessible Vans

The Braun Corporation, a maker of wheelchair-accessible vans, ramps and wheelchair lifts, has debuted two new vehicles, the 2010 Honda Odyssey Entervan and the 2011 Toyota Sienna Rampvan XT. The company now offers a lowered-floor conversion for the three most popular minivans in the U.S. market. With BraunAbility accessible vehicles, wheelchair users have the option to ride as passengers or, if able, to drive the van. According to U.S. Census data, there are approximately 4.3 million wheelchair users in the nation, including veterans, seniors, adults and children with disabilities. The introduction of the 2010 Honda Odyssey Entervan adds to Braun’s collection of Honda, Toyota and Chrysler accessible vans. Notable features for both of these vans include an automatic door and side-entry ramp as well as a lowered floor that features three wheelchair securement options. Additionally, the automatic kneeling system “lowers the rear suspension, allowing for a gentle ramp slope and ample sliding ... keep reading »
Life July 14, 2010

Starting Your Accessible Van Plan

There are 4.3 million wheelchair users in the nation. Nick Gutwein, president of BraunAbility, a company that converts vans to be accessible, wants to help make life easier for them. He recently told The New York Times that it was now possible to “fly into many cities across the country and easily rent a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.” Here’s how to find these vans, how they get converted, and what it’ll cost you. Q: Nick, What does one do when they’re traveling for business or fun in a wheelchair? Is it easy to rent an accessible van from Hertz or Avis just like any other car? A: Mainstream companies like Hertz have several services available for physically challenged folks, but they do not rent accessible minivans. There are three major Accessible van rental companies that have outlets around the country: Accessible Vans of America (866-224-1750); Wheelchair Getaways (800-642-2042) and Wheelers (800-456-1371). In ... keep reading »
Blog July 12, 2010

VA Simplifies Benefits for Veterans with PTSD

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced a critical step forward in providing an easier process for Veterans seeking health care and disability compensation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with the publication of a final regulation in the Federal Register. “This nation has a solemn obligation to the men and women who have honorably served this country and suffer from the often devastating emotional wounds of war,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This final regulation goes a long way to ensure that Veterans receive the benefits and services they need.” By publishing a final regulation in the Federal Register to simplify the process for a Veteran to claim service connection for PTSD, VA reduces the evidence needed if the trauma claimed by a Veteran is related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity and is consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of the Veteran’s service. This ... keep reading »
Blog June 23, 2010

Why Oprah Needs Zach Anner

Oprah Winfrey, who is starting her own network called OWN and is looking for contestants to host a new reality TV show, is at the center of a voters’ dilemma. Rumors are adrift that Winfrey’s show producers may be rigging viewers’ votes against lead contestant Zach Anner, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Anner auditioned for a spot with a video showing his comedic value and finesse as a traveler with a disability, calling himself a “wheelchair-bound lady magnet.” The rumors surfaced Tuesday when another contestant, a woman by the name of Dr. Phyllis, mysteriously gained more than 300,000 votes, surpassing the previously first placed Anner in 20 minutes. Both contestants now have more than four million votes apiece. All votes aside, Oprah needs Zach Anner and so does the world. She should find a way to bring him on board regardless of the results. Anner is cute, funny and ... keep reading »
tech June 23, 2010

Disney Device Will Describe Outdoor Areas to Blind

Disney is improving access to its theme parks for guests with visual disabilities with a GPS-based handheld device that provides detailed audio descriptions of outdoor areas at Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts. Audio descriptions have been available on these wireless devices since 2009 for around 50 rides and attractions, including Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. The new and improved device, however, new helps visually impaired guests understand their surroundings as they walk Disney parks. In addition to describing the park’s architectural elements, the device can say aloud other visual cues such as the location of the nearest restroom and restaurant. WGBH Boston’s Media Access Group teamed up with Disney to deliver the outdoor audio description, marking the latest collaboration between the two organizations, which began with the installation of WGBH’s Rear Window Captioning system in Disney’s theater-based attractions in 1996. “I know of no other public space in ... keep reading »
tech June 22, 2010

Optelec Magnifiers Make Reading Easier

Quanek Collins is just finishing the fourth grade. At 10 years old, he loves basketball, playing chess, drawing, and watching TV. Life just got a little easier for Collins, who has a rare condition called Aniridia that results in severe vision loss. Through an alliance between Optelec, a maker of vision assistive technology, and Sight Savers America, a nonprofit that provides vision care for economically disadvantaged children, Collins was given an Optelec MultiView, a desktop video magnifier that boosts text and object sizes for reading and distance viewing. Quanek Collins receiving his new Optelec Multiview in Chicago in June. The Optelec MultiView is equipped with a camera and 19-inch widescreen display with up to 90 times video magnification. It’s designed for reading and writing, as well as hobbies like crafts, painting and drawing. Objects can be displayed with one of several backgrounds and text colors, either standard black on white, or white on ... keep reading »
Blog June 21, 2010

Captions Need a Push in Congress

I’m really glad the New York Times is paying notice to the issue of captioning on new and digital technologies (“On Web Video, Captions Are Coming Slowly”, June 21.) What a hassle and annoyance (and frankly, somewhat of a civil rights violation, in my opinion) this has been for the deaf and hearing-impaired community. We are now just starting to celebrate the rise of closed-captions on most network and cable TV shows, only to have the technology flip on us. With Web-based TV and movies, captions are not readily available. For movies, our only option is to either rent a foreign film that has English subtitles burned onto it, or hope that the network or movie studio is magnanimous enough to have included captions. It’s happening slowly. The New York Times article centers on Deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who has spoken up on the lack of captions on sites like CNN.com ... keep reading »
Blog June 18, 2010

New Law Will Make Cruise Ships, Ferries More Accessible

Taking a cruise may sound luxurious, but for people with disabilities it can be a logistical nightmare. From making sure a wheelchair can fit through the doors, to finding your way around a ship using tactile braille, it’s almost easier to just stay home. Things may be getting a little easier for this group. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has just announced the first federal rule to specifically provide Americans with Disabilities Act protections to people with disabilities who travel on boats and ships. Now, people with disabilities who ride public boats, such as ferries, and private vessels, including cruise ships, will be entitled to better access and accommodations. Why the new rule? DOT says it wants to make sure that boat and ship operators don’t deny access to passengers based on their disability. They also want to make sure that those passengers, once aboard, are treated fairly, according to DOT’s ... keep reading »
Life June 16, 2010

Disabled Reap Gains in Health Care Reform, Report Says

For the disability community, the passage of healthcare reform has brought a collective sigh of relief. While not perfect, the law has nailed many important facets of coverage for disabled Americans — including expanding the pool of people with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid. It introduces critical provisions that no longer permit health insurers to deny coverage, overcharge for premiums, offer less coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, or impose annual or lifetime caps on benefits. To help decipher the new rules, the United Spinal Association and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association have created a free publication that explains in detail how the bill improves the lives of people with disabilities. “The Impact of Health Care Reform on People with Disabilities” provides the inside story on healthcare reform, including an analysis of insurance market reforms, mandatory health plan coverage provisions, home- and community-based services, Medicare outpatient therapy caps and Medicaid ... keep reading »
Blog June 15, 2010

Disney Adds New Audio Descriptions to Theme Parks

Disney has announced plans to unveil audio description assistive technology for its outdoor theme parks as it currently does for more than 30 narrated indoor attractions and rides. Audio descriptions, provided via headsets, guide visually impaired guests and others who can’t fully experience the visual aspect of visiting a Disney theme park. Using assistive technology audio description devices, guests can still hear ambient sounds but will also receive descriptions of scenery, props, and characters around them. These audio descriptions will extend beyond indoor rides and shows and out into the streets of Disney’s theme parks and will even offer audible versions of restaurant menus for those who can’t read them. Disney’s assistive technology system, which was introduced in 2005, is offered as a free hand-held device to park-goers. It also includes features for deaf and hard-of-hearing guests, such as amplified sound and hand-held captions. Disney licenses the technology to Houston-based Softeq Development Corp., ... keep reading »
tech June 15, 2010

XBox Kinect Uses Voice and Motion to Game, Chat and More

Microsoft unveiled its new add-on for the Xbox 360, known as Kinect, which uses motion detection instead of hand controls to play –- similar to Nintendo’s Wii. Microsoft, which launched Kinect at E3 in L.A., believes the program will make the Xbox more accessible to disabled gamers. Ablegamers.com writer Steve Spohn has some nice things to say about Kinect. The biggest accessibility enhancement for disabled gamers, he says, is the addition of voice commands. For people with physical disabilities this means being able to play and pause games with the use of a voice instead of a remote control. But the more exciting applications of Kinect are the uses that go beyond gaming. For example, being able to control the television with a voice or wrist is a dream come true for people with physical disabilities, who often must buy expensive environmental control units to make their home theaters work. By talking ... keep reading »
Blog May 31, 2010

Suzanne’s Honeymoon Hiatus

As some of you know, apart from Game Accessibility Day last week in Boston, I was also busy … getting married. On Saturday, May 29, I wed Gregory Papajohn in Old Greenwich, Conn. It was a perfectly lovely evening, and it was great to see my family and friends. A highlight of the evening was dancing with my father to “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” by James Taylor. You can read the New York Times announcement here. I’ll be taking a much-needed hiatus for my honeymoon to Napa, Calif., and will be back in action on June 14. Check out my personal Facebook page for wedding and honeymoon photos! And of course, if you haven’t already, please join the abledbody Facebook page for the latest posts and updates. See you all in two weeks! keep reading »
Blog May 25, 2010

Rock Band for the Blind

Now we’re gonna rock out at Game Accessibility Day. Sri Kurniawan, an engineering professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, worked with graduate students to make the drumming game Rock Band accessible to people with visual impairments. The modified version uses haptic and audio feedback, in addition to audio. To make Rock Band work for visually impaired gamers, the team figured out a way to strap vibrating pieces using velcro on a gamer’s upper and lower arms to represent the drumhead cues, and also on the ankle to represent the kick drum cue. Auditory information is used to provide feedback on correct and timely hit (with various drumming sounds) or errors (with a click sound). This is an incredibly cool modification. Reading the menus, song titles and scores requires only a computer’s standard speech synthesizer. Kurniawan and her team evaluated the game for people with various levels of visual impairment. ... keep reading »
Blog May 25, 2010

The Thrill of the Hacker Hardware Challenge

Here at Game Accessibility Day, I’m in a three-person challenge with Adam Coe of Evil Controllers and very well-known hacker Ben Heckendorn aka Ben Heck. We’ve been charged with hacking a real Xbox game controller to modify it for AbleGamers.com associate editor Steve Spohn, who has a rare type of Muscular Dystrophy called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. SMA is a progressive disease that weakens muscles impairing motor functions. We first interviewed Spohn, who is a serious gamer, up in his hotel room, to get a sense of how he plays video games. Steve is severely immobile. He currently has use of his right thumb and forefinger, and can use his left thumb to wedge the controller between his hands. He can slightly move his shoulders and flex his calves. Then the three of us brainstormed together. In a conference room, the two hacker experts — Coe and Heck — spliced wires, ... keep reading »
Blog May 25, 2010

How To Make Video Games More Accessible

Tobi Saulnier gave a talk on how gamers can consider making Nintendo DS — the popular handheld game console — accessible for people with disabilities, particularly kids. Saulnier is founder and CEO of 1st Playable Productions in Troy, N.Y., just outside Albany, where she specializes in making video games for young children. Handheld platforms like the Nintendo DS are great learning devices for kids. They use a touch screen that operates via stylus or fingers, as well as tactile arrow buttons. But they have some limitations in terms of design for people with disabilities. Saulnier tries to add accessibility into all of her games, which include Cabbage Patch Kids and Club Penguin titles. Her company also created Winter’s Tail, which is based on the book by the same name and follows the story of an animal heroine with physical disabilities. keep reading »
Blog May 25, 2010

Game Accessibility Day Tees Off with Sports Game Maker

Chuck Bergen is giving today’s keynote address at Game Accessibility Day, an all-day workshop that’s part of Games for Health 2010 in Boston. Chuck is famous in the disability gaming world for selling a football video game, one that’s very similar to Madden NFL, to Electronic Arts — the world’s largest game maker. ‘My Football Game’ is a CD-based game that can be played by gamers with physical and cognitive disabilities on a PC desktop or laptop with a Windows XP or Vista operating system. The game is compatible with a USB XBOX 360 game controller, a keyboard and most USB adaptive devices. Bergen designed the game and released it last year through his company VTree. “’My Football Game’ proves that you can make a game for the special needs community that looks and feels like a traditional game,” says Mark Barlet, founder of AbleGamers.com, a website that ranks video games for ... keep reading »
Life May 12, 2010

Tonight: Music by Prudence on HBO2

The Oscar-winning HBO Documentary Music by Prudence is premiering Wednesday, May 12 at 8:00pm only on HBO2. The film follows Prudence Mabhena, a Zimbabwean singer who suffers from a disability called anthrogryposis. Here’s the trailer (which doesn’t give away much.) According to HBO, in Zimbabwe, there is a traditional belief that children who are born disabled are a result of witchcraft and, as a result, physically challenged children are often neglected and rejected by their families. This 2009 Academy Award winner for Documentary Short Subject tells the story of Prudence and her Afro-fusion band Liyana, which is comprised of physically challenged musicians. Music by Prudence follows this strong and resilient young woman, whose wonderful voice has helped her leave behind the years of rejection and neglect towards a bright and hopeful future. Check it out on HBO2 tonight and download the soundtrack, Going Nowhere. keep reading »
Life May 7, 2010

Through Milk-Bone’s Eyes

Jason Wehner is a senior brand manager for Milk-Bone, a division of Del Monte Pet Treats. In 2009 Milk-Bone launched an $8-million “It’s Good to Give” campaign, which includes a multi-million-dollar national print and TV ad program. In April Milk-Bone month sponsored a PBS documentary, “Through a Dog’s Eyes,” which highlights the benefits of service dogs for people with physical disabilities and special needs. Q: Jason, why did Milk-Bone start the “It’s Good to Give” campaign, and has it been successful for the company? A: We’ve been partnering with Canine Assistants [an organization that provides dogs for people with disabilities] for more than 12 years and we’re always looking for new ways to promote the incredible work done by the organization. The “It’s Good to Give” campaign was created to draw attention to the many ways that we enable consumers to give back. By simply purchasing the product, consumers are giving cleaner ... keep reading »
Blog May 6, 2010

One-Way Ticket to Relay Hell

Amtrak’s website was down, and I needed to book my ticket from Stamford to Boston for the sixth annual Games for Health conference. G4H focuses on many uses for videogames and videogame technologies in health and healthcare. I’m speaking at Game Accessibility day on May 25 about games for people with physical and mental disabilities. So I decided to use TRS — telecommunications relay services for the deaf — to call Amtrak instead. What should have been a three-minute online booking experience turned into a one-hour, agonizingly slow relay call, reminding me again why I chose to get a cochlear implant to help me hear on a regular telephone, which I can use most of the time. Sometimes I like relay because I can ensure that I’m getting the right information, and I get the automatic 15% Amtrak disability discount. It’s all about the perks, right? It can be so frustrating for ... keep reading »
Blog April 30, 2010

Cannes Disability Campaign Is A Flop

It’s time again for the Cannes Film Festival; only this time there’s a twist. As Hollywood hotshots ascend the 50 steps of the Palais des Festivals and are adorned by global paparazzi and movie fans alike, Canadian screenwriter Sean Marckos, who uses a wheelchair, must enter the movie hall in less-than-dramatic fashion: through a side door. Despite pleading his case for two years, Cannes officials have refused to install a ramp that would allow Marckos, who has muscular dystrophy, to wheel up the red carpet in all his glory. Marckos has not remained complacent. He began legal action, and is producing a documentary called Just Imagine, which follows his plight in Cannes. He has built a website, garnered corporate supporters and is holding a fundraiser on May 5 in Cannes to raise awareness of discrimination. And… cut. This is as far as I can genuinely support Marckos and his cause. His campaign, the ... keep reading »
Blog April 16, 2010

Netflix To Caption Some Web TV and Movies

The deaf community’s frustration with Netflix may be going away, or at least subsiding for now. Netflix has enabled closed captioning for some TV episodes and movies that you can watch instantly on your PC or Mac, says Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer at Netflix. Although it’s a limited library of content with subtitles available — about 100 titles, including most episodes of “Lost” Seasons 1-4 — Netflix now has released the technology and “will be working to fill in the library over time.” Currently, the captions only work on computers, including PCs and iPads. Netflix says it is working on captions for its game console, Blu-ray, and DTV platforms, which will roll out in releases starting this fall, along with support for 5.1 audio. Netflix offers a flat rate movie-delivery service but as more content is moving online, Netflix has been under pressure to use technology that will caption streaming TV ... keep reading »
Life April 16, 2010

Service Dogs Star in Milk-Bone T.V. Show

When I first saw the Milk-Bone TV ad portraying a college student in a wheelchair, I admit I was stunned. It took me only a few seconds to realize the connection: The student had a service dog and flipped the dog a few treats after a long day at class. On Wednesday, the pet-snack maker hopes to do even more to highlight the work of service dogs for people with disabilities by sponsoring a primetime PBS documentary — with a voiceover by actor Neil Patrick Harris — that will have viewers seeing dogs in a whole new light. Through a Dog’s Eyes will follow the life-changing journey of four people with disabilities and their families as they go through the heartwarming and sometimes difficult process of receiving and being matched with a service dog. Jennifer Arnold, founder of Canine Assistants, one of the nation’s largest service dog organizations, shows her unique teaching ... keep reading »
Life April 8, 2010

Positive Vibes and “A Good Buffalo Burger” for Disabilities

“You become so frustrated by the system you just don’t try anymore.” This statement is spoken eloquently by Garth Larcen, father to two children, including 30-year-old son Max, who has muscular dystrophy. Knowing full well that Max would likely never get a job in the real world, Larcen, a former restaurant owner, started a restaurant called Max’s Positive Vibe Café – and hired his son to work there. In a new award category this year for Disability Matters — the small business category – Max’s Positive Vibe Café won the small business diversity workplace award. (Other winners included J. Lodge LLC, which recruits people with disabilities for call center jobs, and Parrot Trophies, a trophy manufacturer that employs people with disabilities.) Located outside Richmond, Va., Larcen and his staff – which includes workers with physical and cognitive disabilities — work six days a week serving lunch and dinner at the cafe. Max ... keep reading »
Blog April 2, 2010

Bank of America Completes Rollout of Talking ATMs

Bank of America, which operates the largest network of bank-owned ATMs in the U.S., has finished equipping all of its more than 18,000 ATMs in the U.S. with text-to-speech for its customers with visual impairments. These talking ATMs provide audible instructions in English or Spanish to persons who cannot view information on an ATM screen, aided by the use of audio jacks that work with standard headsets to protect customers’ privacy and security. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires that banks eventually make their ATMs audio-enabled. Bank of America was one of the first U.S. banks to begin installing talking ATMs across the country, but in recent years has been under fire for not finishing the job fast enough. One disability organization, the California Council of the Blind, has been working with the bank for several years on issues of banking accessibility. Such cooperation has helped the bank avoid expensive ADA-discrimination ... keep reading »
Life April 2, 2010

Read How You Want Builds Books Just for You

Australia’s Christopher Stephen is the founder of ReadHowYouWant, a company that publishes books in accessible formats for people who are visually impaired, dyslexic, non-native English speakers — or just have trouble reading regular print. Read How You Want has partnered with major publishers to build a collection of 4,500 titles, including Oprah Book Club picks, Classics and new releases. Readers can buy the titles online and download in the format that’s easiest for them to read. Q: Chris, how did you first get involved in accessible publishing? A: My older sister taught me to read. She developed multiple sclerosis (MS) and found reading increasingly tiring. I bought her a large-print book and she did not find this easier to read. I was puzzled. I tested her reading, and eventually discovered she has an eye-tracking problem — her eyes kept jumping to other lines even in the large print book — the lines ... keep reading »
Life March 16, 2010

FCC’s Broadband Plan Endorses Accessibility

In a move that has been eagerly anticipated by the disability community, the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday submitted its National Broadband Plan to Congress. The 360-page plan, which lays out a vision for high-speed broadband that’s both affordable and accessible, has wide implications for American with disabilities. Only 65 percent of American households are wired for high-speed Internet, making the U.S. a lagging player behind other nations such as South Korea. Meanwhile only 29 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. have broadband service – a low number that’s partly due to the exorbitant cost of accessible tools for the Web. For instance, many assistive technologies – like Braille displays — are too expensive, costing upwards of $3,000. While the agency unanimously agreed on the overall plan, there are more than 200 recommendations that will need to be approved separately, FCC officials said. The FCC is planning a ... keep reading »
tech March 10, 2010

FCC Talks on Broadband for People with Disabilities

The Federal Communications Commission, getting ready to officially present its national broadband plan to Congress next week, is holding a conference in Washington, D.C. — live streamed with open captions — to discuss what needs to be in the plan in order to ensure equal access to high-speed Internet content for people with disabilities. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski kicked off today’s meeting with a sober truth. “Historically, it has taken years for people with disabilities to get even close to acheiving equal access in communications,” Genachowski says.” This includes cell phones and computers — but the FCC is determined not to let such an event happen with high-speed Internet. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, “we have a mandate to address the barriers of broadband for people with disabilities,” he adds. It’s not just web programming — it’s everything associated with broadband, including devices like cell phones, services and ... keep reading »
Blog March 9, 2010

A Chat with ABC News on Assistive Gadgets

I recently did an interview for ABC news video. They asked me to come and talk about five new assistive technologies. I did the interview in their New York City studio, which presented somewhat of a difficult challenge as ABC News’ anchor is based in Washington, D.C. Which meant a remote feed — an earbud, which I couldn’t use in my ear because I have a cochlear implant. Fortunately we arrived at a solution to tape the earbud as close as possible to my cochlear implant. So that’s why you can see a wire, and is also why I purposely move my head slowly when demonstrating the products. The sound technician said the next time I can buy a mono adapter for the awesome NoizFree headset that I use with my cochlear implant, which would have plugged nicely into ABC’s sound system. In any event, the ABC News interview was ... keep reading »
Life March 7, 2010

Avatar: Will the Oscars Overlook Disability?

Just in time for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, comes an article in Huffington Post about Avatar and the lack of chatter around disability. Despite all the excitement from people with disabilities last year at Comic Con, where director James Cameron unveiled Avatar footage for the first time, disability never emerged as a central theme in this sci-fi movie. In Avatar, Corporal Jake Sully is a former Marine who lost the use of his legs while on duty. Sully, played by Sam Worthington, is recruited for a mission to the planet of Pandora where technology gives his mind access to a cloned body of one of the local humanoid aliens, the Na’vi. The 3-D epic has been nominated for nine Academy awards, including Best Picture. If Cameron does win an Oscar, he should start a much needed public conversation on disabilities, writes HuffPo writer Anna Mail Bertelsen. There has been very little chatter ... keep reading »
Blog March 7, 2010

Google’s Smart Captioning Move

Ah, video and search. Frank Sinatra said it best: Try, try, try to separate them – it’s an illusion. Here’s proof of that: Speech Technology. This week, Google sealed the deal on video search capabilities for its YouTube portal, saying it would provide auto-captions for all of its uploaded videos using proprietary Google’s Speech Technology. Google’s initiative, piloted in November, began with a handful of partner channels including PBS, Stanford University and National Geographic. It has now expanded to all uploaded English-speaking videos, with more languages to be added later this year. With this news, Google establishes itself as a frontrunner in the Internet programming space. As a company built on search, search, and more search, Google is now able to capitalize on its investment in speech-to-text technology to index videos, target advertising and create an actual profit margin for YouTube. In fact, video search is likely why Google acquired YouTube in ... keep reading »
Blog March 1, 2010

Get A Free Chapter of My Assistive Tech Book

At the start of every month, ReadHowYouWant, the company that translated my book into braille and audio formats, offers a free chapter download of 20 books. Since March is Women’s History Month and celebrates women authors, ReadHowYouWant is giving away a free chapter of my new book, The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology! Australian-based ReadHowYouWant partners with leading publishers to make their content accessible at the time of publication. It has a small collection of 3,500 titles but they are adding 200 new titles every month. Braille and DAISY titles range in price from $4.99 to $12.99. The free chapter download program is a joint project between ReadHowYouWant and Humanware, an assistive technology company that makes accessible digital book readers for the blind such as the VictorReader Stream. The chapters are available in digital braille (which can be read on a braille display) as well as two audio types: regular MP3 ... keep reading »
Blog February 25, 2010

Healthcare Debate: People with Disabilities Left Out

I’m watching the healthcare debate on T.V., with President Obama taking a very CEO-roundtable-like style to try to bring together a roomful of lawmakers to agree on a comprehensive $950 billion healthcare bill. Obama sits at the head of a square conference table, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Lamar Alexander, John McCain and other Republican senators sit to Obama’s left. “We want a discussion, not talking points,” Obama says. The GOP discussion is namely centered on reducing costs through program spending cuts and holding more doctors and hospitals accountable. The Democrats talk about expanding the system to cover all Americans, including low-income families and people with disabilities. Also in the room is Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who leads the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee and is an ardent supporter of people with disabilities. Harkin, a Democrat, is working to pass the Community Choice Act, which ... keep reading »
Blog February 17, 2010

Expedia and Hotels.com’s Accessible Room Gimmick

I got two press releases yesterday. One from Hotels.com, and another from Expedia.com, both claiming that they have renovated their websites to let people with physical disabilities search for accessible hotel rooms. While this seems like good news, here’s what they didn’t say: 1. Customers can search for, but not book, accessible rooms. I thought the point was to be able to book them? Look at the booking engine for Expedia below. I did a mock booking of a hotel in Boston, and Expedia lets you “select” your “options,” but this is deceptive. Because an Expedia customer service rep has to then call the hotel to confirm availability of say, a roll-in shower. 2. There’s no guarantee you’ll get an accessible room. Expedia says that if a room is available, you will receive a confirmation email. If it’s not, well, you are going to have to book a different room, ... keep reading »
Blog February 3, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things at ATIA

My favorite gadgets at this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association conference, which featured more than 100 vendors, include two communications products and a new PDA for the blind. I also note some worthy mentions – gadgets that I liked because of their design or originality. Here’s the list. ECO2 This eye-gaze system brings the latest in alternative input. For people who cannot use their limbs, nor speak (perhaps someone with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease – or a person who has had a stroke), Prentke-Romich’s ECO2 is a great innovation. To calibrate ECO2, I followed a bouncing ball on screen while it recorded my eye movements – this takes all of 30 seconds. The program, a combination of words, phrases and pictures, can be operated using just the eyes, allowing someone to express their thoughts (and their gratitude for this program.) ($7,795) Proloquo2go An iPhone/iTouch app for people who have trouble communicating, Assistive ... keep reading »
Blog February 1, 2010

Move Over iPhone — BlackBerry’s Got a New Screen Reader

In a much anticipated release, at this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference HumanWare and Code Factory debuted Oratio for the BlackBerry, the first-ever screen reader for the visually impaired using this smart phone. Oratio uses text-to-speech technology to convert the visual information displayed on the BlackBerry screen into audio output. Finally, visually impaired persons who don’t have an iPhone can have an accessible experience (the iPhone uses Apple’s proprietary VoiceOver screen reader.)   I wrote about this excellent, up-in-coming product in my book, though the name has been changed from Orator to Oratio to avoid any confusion with an existing product called Orator being manufactured by a telecommunications company in the USA. “Although we got accustomed to the name Orator for BlackBerry in the last few months, Oratio is less generic and provides a more personalized name and sound for the product,” says Michel Pepin, Product Manager at HumanWare. The ... keep reading »
Blog January 31, 2010

Ad Campaign Eschews “Silly” Disability Labels

Are you clearing-impaired? Yes, you heard me right. A new advertising campaign is using humor to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities. In Think Beyond The Label, workers are shown as having quirky impairments ranging from being a fashion disaster (“pattern-deficient”) to having two left feet on the dance floor (“rhythm-impaired”). The point is to shed the labels given to people and look instead at what value they can bring to a company. This campaign has clout, because instead of having a public service announcement format that is typical of such disability awareness ads, Think Beyond The Label has an estimated budget of $4 million for the first two quarters of 2010, according to The New York Times. It’s being spearheaded by Health & Disability Advocates, a nonprofit organization that is working on behalf of more than 25 state vocational rehabilitation agencies. Stuart Elliot, The New York Times‘ Advertising writer says ... keep reading »
Blog January 30, 2010

Speech Recognition for the Deaf in the Workplace

I didn’t get to too many workshops at the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference this year, because I only attended for one full day. I did stop into a presentation on speech-recognition for the deaf, led by Ed Rosenthal, CEO of Next Generation Technologies, a consulting firm. Rosenthal is a certified partner, and been working for 20 years, with Nuance Communications Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, and says that the technology had its first real breakthrough about three years ago when it debuted its latest version — 10 Preferred ($199). Now, Rosenthal says, he believes the speech-to-text program works well enough to be used as a real-time captioning tool for the deaf in the workplace. The Dragon program is said to work “three times faster than most people type, with accuracy rates of up to 99% right out of the box.” In a demonstration, Rosenthal opened up a Word document and began speaking (into a ... keep reading »
Blog January 29, 2010

Hands off My Pony! And other ATIA Humor

Though assistive tech isn’t really a topic to be taken lightly, sometimes it’s good to have some fun with it — and find the humorous side of things. Here’s hoping you smile with these photos taken today at the 2010 Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando: Don’t touch that pony! A blind woman attended today’s session with her miniature horse in tow. Her husband, who helped train the horse near their home in Jacksonville, Fla., kept reminding gawkers that it’s not a pony — otherwise she would be riding it, not walking with it. I like the red bow on the horse’s head. Everyone wanted to pet the horse, but you’re not supposed to touch service animals. Pardon me, Is it happy hour yet? Look closely here at the screen for Zingui, a new speech-generating device from Jabbla for people who have difficulty speaking. This device is set up ... keep reading »
Blog January 29, 2010

Is Braille Making a Comeback?

I have been to plenty of Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conferences, and this year has all the usual stuff (though gadgets are getting smaller every year!) As I walked the exhibit halls, I was haunted by the recent New York TImes Sunday Magazine article, Listening to Braille, where the author bemoans the decline of braille teaching in the classroom, which she says is contributing to higher illiteracy rates among the blind. I kept an eye out for cool new Braille products, hoping to find the spark that would re-energize braille again. For starers, I liked the sleek design of the Next Generation Perkins Brailler — a typewriter that outputs in braille instead of alpha-numeric. Perkins also just came out with a product called Top Braille. it’s a portable reader with a braille button on top. A user slides the device across printed text, and “feels” the braille button translating the ... keep reading »
Blog January 29, 2010

Intel Wants More of the Text-to-Speech Market

Intel is the first company that greets you at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2010 conference in Orlando, where I’m checking out new gadgets for people with disabilities. (Great timing, as it’s freezing up north.) It’s always a good sign for the industry when a major tech player sets up shop with a glossy new gadget for people with disabilities. Intel is showing off the new Intel Reader, for people who are blind or have reading disabilities, which debuted in November. The Reader is a handheld device bundled with a digital camera that takes pictures of printed material and reads it aloud. Intel sought input from HumanWare to create the product. Camera-captured text-to-speech devices are a trend that has been met with mixed views. Some people call the concept genius, as gadgets like the Reader pack a powerful computer and scanner into one, at a cost of around $1,400. Others ... keep reading »
Blog January 28, 2010

Hey Apple, What About iPad’s Accessibility?

In Apple’s rush to debut the new iPad tablet it forgot one little piece of marketing: Accessibility. Apple has an accessibility page but it didn’t bother to add the iPad before launching it yesterday at its headquarters. And even though Steve Jobs’ keynote was likely prepared, Apple didn’t bother to add captions for deaf or hard of hearing reporters, nor did it add captions to the 46-minute video broadcast of Jobs’ speech or the video “demo” of the new tablet. Sheesh. Apple knows better. The good news is that all existing iPhone accessibility features will be available on the iPad: - VoiceOver. This is the screen reader made popular on the Mac thats speaks menus, texts and objects aloud for people who are blind or visually impaired. But not all of VoiceOver’s 21 languages will be available. - Screen zoom. This will make the page or text larger. Contrast can also be changed ... keep reading »
Blog January 19, 2010

Book Event in NYC!

My publisher, Demos, is hosting an event at a New York Public Library on February 9 to promote my new book. In “High Tech to No Tech – Assistive Technology for the Disabled Goes Mainstream,” Demos will announce the release of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology to media and the publishing industry. I’ll speak about the different devices and gadgets for people with vision, hearing, mobility, cognitive and communications disabilities. EVENT DETAILS Location: Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library 40 West 20th Street (Between 5th and 6th Aves.) New York, NY 10011 When: Tuesday, February 9, 5:30PM to 6:30PM Phone: 212.683.0072 Map to library Suzanne Robitaille, author of “The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology and Devices” will demonstrate some new cool technologies for those working and living with disabilities at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. The library, which features barrier-free architecture and houses browsing collections of braille, recorded, and large-print ... keep reading »
Book January 12, 2010

The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology

“Should Be On The Top-Ten List…” – ATIA “Must-Have Guide….” – About.com “Comprehensive, Practical and Detailed…” – Disaboom “Lively Narrative Style…” National Multiple Sclerosis Society The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology and Devices: Tools and Gadgets for Living Independently (Demos Publishing, December 2009, Paperback) is one of the only books on the marketplace to address assistive technology from a purely consumer perspective. Written by former BusinessWeek.com assistive technology columnist Suzanne Robitaille, this book chronicles the use of assistive technology used by individuals with disabilities to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. It includes everything from simple “no-tech” gadgets for the home and office; to the “high-tech” electronic gadgets and complex computer systems for the workplace; to mobility aids and accessible vans for getting around; and modified equipment for lifestyle needs, such as talking ATMs and strobe light alarm systems. Through her book, Suzanne empowers people with disabilities to use assistive technologies to ... keep reading »
Tech Talk January 12, 2010

CSUN Offers Master’s in Assistive Technology

Cal State Northridge is launching this semester a new Master of Science in Assistive Technology Studies and Human Services (ATHS), believed to be the first such degree program in the country, according to CSUN’s blog. Offered jointly by the Colleges of Health and Human Development and Engineering and Computer Science and CSUN’s Tseng College of Extended Learning, the new program is aimed at mid-career professionals interested in understanding and working with all aspects of the new technologies-from conceptualization and design to use and instruction. It will include more than 60 Northridge faculty and,representatives of the university’s nationally acclaimed Center on Disabilities. The CSUN master’s program encompasses research and design; law, ethics and policy; counseling education and the dynamics of play. The technological aspects are enhanced by the program’s link to the master’s program in assistive and rehabilitative technology in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. There are a total of 14 students ... keep reading »
Blog January 12, 2010

The Harsh Economics of Learning Braille

The media is talking about braille and literacy, a topic jump-started by a New York Times Magazine article, “Listening to Braille,” by Rachel Aviv. The author writes that new technology may be undermining Braille literacy as people who are blind are now “reading” via e-books, iPods, telephone news services and other text-to-speech devices. Aviv’s article centers on education: Teaching braille in order to inform language structure and help blind children read and write better. While she touches on the economics of technology, I wish she had gone deeper into this issue. The cost of reading Braille really does need to be stressed. Aviv writes: “Braille books are expensive and cumbersome, requiring reams of thick, oversize paper. The National Braille Press, an 83-year-old publishing house in Boston, printed the Harry Potter series on its Heidelberg cylinder; the final product was 56 volumes, each nearly a foot tall. Because a single textbook can cost ... keep reading »
Blog January 9, 2010

Princeton Student to Pursue Disability Lawsuit Ahead of Finals

Princeton University consistently ranks at the top of all the college charts, but in the eyes of one student, the school is short one accolade — “best university for students with a learning disability.” On Jan. 11 — just before finals — a District Court in New Jersey will hear the case of a Princeton University student who sued the school for not acknowledging her learning-disability needs for exams. In Metcalf-Leggette v. Princeton University, 19-year-old Diane Metcalf-Leggette, of Centreville, Va., will argue that her case has merit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Metcalf-Leggette, who is diagnosed with four learning disabilities affecting her ability to read, comprehend, and communicate her knowledge of coursework, takes exception to Princeton’s policy of not granting extended examination time to students. In October, a federal judge refused a temporary restraining order that would have freed Metcalf-Leggette from having to take mid-term exams without the accommodations she says ... keep reading »
Blog January 6, 2010

USOC: New CEO Blackmun Will Be “Fantastic” for Paralmypics

The U.S. Olympic Committee chose Scott Blackmun as the new Chief Executive Officer of the USOC. Blackmun, a former interim CEO at the USOC and chief operating officer for sports-and-entertainment behemoth AEG Worldwide, was tabbed Tuesday to take control of the organization at the end of the month. USOC Chairman Larry Probst had this to say about the selection: “We are pleased to introduce Scott as our new CEO and to welcome him back to the USOC. With a deep understanding of the Olympic Movement, established relationships in the Olympic Family and a strong commitment to the community of Colorado Springs, we know he will move seamlessly into the role and be ready to represent the USOC as we head into the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.” The hiring of Blackmun, age 52, coincides with the organization moving into its new headquarters in downtown Colorado Springs. “When we were looking for our new ... keep reading »
Blog December 18, 2009

How to Find a Holiday Captioned Movie

Now that the thrust of the holiday movie season is upon us, let’s talk about something not so cheerful: Going to a film and not being able to hear it. Thousands of people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing miss out because they can’t follow dialogue on the big screen. Big chains like AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment, having been sued countless times for not having captioning systems, have agreed to settle lawsuits by installing some caption systems, in some cities. As a result, some U.S. movie theaters have this technology in place. The bigger nut to crack is finding a particular film, when you want it, where you want it. It’s almost fanciful, like trying to catch Santa in your chimney on Christmas Eve. Movie chains say they don’t want to disrupt their hearing audience, so they tend to run captions on just one or two new films — of ... keep reading »
Blog December 17, 2009

Congrats to the Twitter Book Giveaway Winners!

Congrats to Stephen Yang (@syangman) and Luis Perez (@lfp72) for their speedy retweets, which won them a signed version of my new book, The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology. If you’re interested, Disaboom.com wrote a lovely review of the book — thanks, Disaboom (@disaboom)! Also, a big shout-out to all those that helped promote the book, including Michael Janger (@MichaelJanger), who has a new blog on hearing accessibility issues; the National Center on Technology Innovation (@NCTI); Web Axe (@webaxe), which has a podcast on accessibility; the Center for Implementing Technology in Education (@TechnologyInEd), among others. In February 2010, we’re (me and the book publishers) are planning a book signing and press event at the New York City Public Library. Specifically, it is set to be held at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, and will be made available in alternative formats, including braille and audio, by ReadHowYouWant.com (@readhowyouwant). Hope ... keep reading »
Blog December 16, 2009

Assistive Technology Book Giveaway!

Today marks the formal release of my first title, The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices (Demos Medical Publishing, December 2009, 232 pages). To celebrate, I’ll do a Twitter giveaway for an autographed copy of the book to two readers who help promote my book via Twitter. Here’s what you have to do to enter: 1. Follow me on Twitter @suzrobitaille 2. Retweet this message: Win a signed copy of @suzrobitaille new assistive tech book! http://bit.ly/7bTARP (For those unfamiliar with re-tweeting: Cut and paste this message: RT @suzrobitaille: Win a signed copy of @suzrobitaille new assistive tech book! http://bit.ly/7bTARP into the “what are you doing” box on the homepage of your twitter account. Winners will be notified by 12 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. If you don’t have a Twitter account, sign up here. My book is an illustrated guide to assistive technologies and devices used by individuals with disabilities to perform functions that ... keep reading »
tech December 8, 2009

Touch Bionics Unveils New Bionic Finger

Michael Bailey is a student and self-described technology nut who always keeps up with the latest developments, but he never thought for one minute that he would become one of the first people in the world to be the recipient of the world’s first bionic finger.   Bailey lost three fingers and parts of his left hand in March 2008 while working in a paper recycling plant cleaning out an industrial paper baler as normal. “Well, the machine did what it was supposed to and that’s how I ended up with my injury,” Bailey says. With difficulty getting back to normal — more trips to the car for groceries, folding clothes and cleaning the house, Bailey says he eventually realized that there was more to life than his injury. Bailey’s physical therapist first introduced him to Touch Bionics’ ProDigits bionic fingers. After testing to see if he met the criteria, Bailey was fitted for ... keep reading »
Life December 8, 2009

‘My Football Game’ Lets Disabled Gamers Go Deep

It was a roller-coaster ride that sparked Chuck Bergen’s interest in helping kids with disabilities. Many years ago Bergen and his family attended a theme park in Pennsylvania and stood on line for a roller coaster. The ride was accessible, in the sense that people who used wheelchairs could transfer from their chair to the coaster car on a separate platform, which seemed like a reasonable arrangement to Bergen until the ride operator cried out: “Will ANYONE give up their seat so the disabled kid can ride?” Besides the shear embarrassment Bergen says he felt for the young girl in a wheelchair, he was even more shocked at how many people refused to give up their seat so the girl could ride with her companion, who happened to be her mother. “It pretty much hit me that a virtual reality roller coaster ride for special-needs individuals would be a nice alternative ... keep reading »
Blog November 20, 2009

Study Says Pistorius Has “Unfair” Edge on Blades

A new study published today in The Journal of Applied Physiology concludes that prosthetic legs worn by double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius give him an unfair advantage over able-bodied runners. In the study, “The fastest runner on artificial legs: different limbs, similar function?,” researchers said Pistorius’s blades allow him to turn over his strides more quickly and with more power than a runner with biological legs. “We conclude that running on modern, lower-limb sprinting prostheses appears to be physiologically similar but mechanically different from running with intact limbs,” the report says. Researchers conducted three tests that compared his prosthetic limbs and those of competitive male runners with intact limbs. They determined that Pistorius expended less energy when he ran, particularly when comparing him against runners in the 400-meter speciality. Also, the study says Pistorius benefits from enhanced running mechanics on his blades, including longer foot-ground contact time and less time in the ... keep reading »
Blog November 20, 2009

Paralympics to Host Students in Vancouver

The U.S. Paralympics will be hosting 12 student-athletes (ages 14-19) with physical disabilities and six adults, made up of coaches, teachers and program leaders at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, March 12-21. In the Paralympic Experience program, participants will have the opportunity to meet U.S. Paralympic Team members, attend Opening Ceremonies and athletic competitions and build camaraderie with other potential Paralympians. The Paralympic Experience program introduces individuals with physical disabilities to Paralympic sport on the local and international levels. Paralympic Sport Clubs, located in more than 100 communities across the U.S., annually host a one-day Paralympic Experience event that exposes local participants to a variety of Paralympic sport opportunities available in the community. To find a Paralympic Experience in your community, visit the Paralympic Activity Network. Every two years, one Paralympic Experience is held internationally in conjunction with the Paralympic Games. Student-athletes and coaches are selected based on leadership, community ... keep reading »
Blog November 19, 2009

Google Adds Automatic Captions to YouTube

I knew Google Voice would have multiple uses for people who are deaf and hearing impaired, but I didn’t expect this news to come so fast: Google is adding automatic captions to YouTube videos. Google announced the news today on its official Google blog, and while the feature is definitely a work-in-progress, it’s an exciting start to machine-generated video captions. Many people know that Google created a YouTube caption system about a year ago. It required users to upload captions themselves, a time-consuming process, which meant that most videos did not get captioned and were inaccessible to people with hearing impairments. With the new “auto-caps”, Google is combining its automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system. Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video. “The captions will not always be perfect, but even when they’re off, they can still be helpful,” ... keep reading »
Blog November 16, 2009

Live from NCTI 2009: Developing the Net Generation

An eclectic group of social entrepreneurs and educators are creating new solutions for teaching a new generation, including those with disabilities. Moderator Alan Brightman, senior policy director of special communities for Yahoo!, spoke with panelists on how to engage students using technology. Brightman was joined by Sheryl Burgstahler, director of DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technologies), University of Washington; Monica Martinez, president of the New Tech Network; and Jan Morrison, senior STEM consultant for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides funding for educational initiatives. Highlights: - The Open Prosthetics Project, an open source model that lets users, designers and funders create and make available prosthetics for use in the marketplace. - DO-IT’s Center for Design in Education is a good primer on how to use universal design principles in higher education spaces and in classes. Live from NCTI 2009: The Future of Marketing of Assistive Technology The assistive technology market is somewhat fragmented. Generally ... keep reading »
Blog November 16, 2009

Live from NCT1 2009: Social Media and Assistive Tech in the Classroom

On a panel with social media innovators and educators, Andy Carvin (@acarvin) moderated a discussion on the different social media channels available to students and others. Carvin is a social media strategist for NPR and the author of EdWeb: Exploring Technology & School Reform. Other panelists included Steve Hargadon, founder of the Classroom 2.0 social network; Lee Rainie (@lrainie), director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a think tank that studies the social impact of the Internet; and Michael Levine, executive director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which supports research and investments in media technology for young children. The panel began with an excellent slideshow on how teens use technology today. Some examples: 14% of online kids blog; 54% read blogs; 55% use wikipedia; and 73% use social networks. You can view it here. (Thanks, @lrainie!) As brilliant as all these guys are, there was, unfortunately, not much discussion on assistive ... keep reading »
Life November 16, 2009

Orthotic Socks Made “Cool”

If you wear ankle or foot braces, chances are you have a nice collection of black or white orthotic socks that fit over each brace. Give these up: Susan Kleiman wants to change your wardrobe. Kleiman, president of Ross Daniel Adaptive Apparel, today launched “Cool Clothes for Toes,” a line of fashion socks for those with special needs. In the US, there are more than 20 million children and teens with special needs, and few fashion alternatives for those who need them. According to Kleiman, this product holds a special place for her, because it was her teenage son, Ross that gave rise to the inspiration. “Ross is a 16 year old with special needs, and in my struggle to find him a sock that was comfortable, breathable and fashionable for a teenager … I decided to form a company to help give people with physical challenges fashion and dignity,” she ... keep reading »
tech November 16, 2009

Live from NCTI 2009: Powering Students with Technology

The 2009 NCTI Technology Innovators Conference focuses on how learning and assistive technologies can supercharge education for all students. At the start of the morning session, here are five trends that will unleash the power of assistive technology in the classroom: 1. Convergence. The transformation of a variety of devices onto a single platform or device, like the iPhone. The Speaking Pad is an app with more than a half-million downloads. Students with speech and hearing impairments can use the app to enter data into their cell phone and make the information available through speech output. 2. Customizability. Designed to be configured to meet the needs of invididuals. A perfect example is video games, which are altered for people with disabilities and includes features such as captioned dialogue, text-to-speech, screen magnification, and customized colors for colorblindness. 3. Evidence-based Research. Supported by evidence of effectiveness, research shows that technology should be measured by its ... keep reading »
Blog November 13, 2009

FCC Holds Hearing on Broadband for People with Disabilities

On November 6 the FCC held a Field Hearing on Broadband Access for People with Disabilities at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. The hearing is one of many that will discuss ways to bring access to broadband to the nation’s 54 Americans with disabilities. The meeting included panelists from A.G. Bell, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, a group that’s making a big push for a federal law that would require, among other innovations, closed-captions (for the deaf) and video descriptions (for the blind) for Internet TV and movies. Academy-Award winning actress Marlee Matlin also served as a panelist on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf. Federal Communications Commission Michael J. Copps spoke at the start of the meeting, and made it clear that the agency is working to make broadband access a reality for the disabled. Here are excerpts ... keep reading »
Blog November 13, 2009

U.K. Passes Landmark Autism Bill

Today England will pass a the first ever disability-specific bill, The Autism Act. The bill will require health organizations to provide support for people with autism, which affects over half a million people in the U.K. The U.K.’s National Autistic Society (NAS) heralded the new law. The Act “will add serious weight to the forthcoming adult autism strategy so now we’ll be keeping the pressure up on Government to make sure they get it right and deliver lasting change for people with this serious, lifelong and disabling condition,” says Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS. Under the Autism Act, the Government’s forthcoming adult autism strategy will be legally enforceable and must be published within the next six months. New responsibilities the NHS and local authorities will be expected to fulfil will include providing diagnostic services for adults with autism and better training for health and social care staff. The NAS is also ... keep reading »
Blog November 12, 2009

Two Universities Reject “Inaccessible” Kindle

Two universities say they will not deploy Amazon’s Kindle DX to distribute electronic textbooks to their students, citing the Kindle’s lack of accessible features for people with print disabilities. While the Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud, the menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase or read books from Amazon’s Kindle store. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University say they will not adopt the device for general use unless and until it is made accessible to blind students. The National Federation of the Blind applauded the schools’ decision. The Kindle is “inaccessible” and “denies the blind equal access to electronic textbooks,” says Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the NFB. “No university should consider this device to be a viable e-book solution for its students.” Schools have been searching for an easier way to distribute ... keep reading »
Blog November 12, 2009

Glee: That’s How Artie Rolls

I’m a product of the MTV generation, and last night’s “Wheels” episode of Glee blew me away. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a music video cute boy in a wheelchair roll cooly through a high-school cafeteria in slow motion while singing a Billy Idol song, and then pop and spin through the hall as he rocked out to ’80s music. Kevin McHale, who plays Artie Abrams, a paraplegic in Fox’s Glee, turned the number into a powerful acknowledgment that having a physical disability can make you feel like an outcast among your own kind. This truth is intensified in high school, where, among the esteemed cheerleaders and football players, you struggle to fit in and find your place.   Artie has a dilemma. He wants to join the rest of the Glee Club for an off-site competition, but the school cannot afford an accessible van. Sure, Artie’s dad can drive him separately, ... keep reading »
Blog November 11, 2009

Blind Readers Blast Intel’s “Ghetto” Text-to-Speech Device

I wonder if Intel feels sheepish right now. Here they are, thinking they’ve just launched a great new product for the blind, a mobile device that reads text aloud. Intel partnered with assistive tech pioneer HumanWare and reached out to the blind community to get their input, too. But the Intel Reader, announced yesterday, has pretty much bombed in the marketplace. At $1,500, the Reader is overpriced and doesn’t have any more bells and whistles than other devices already out there. Intel should have known this would happen — or perhaps they don’t really care. After all, if they can get schools to pay for it under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, then they’ll make money. But making products that don’t represent the needs and wants of consumers — blind or not — is anathema to what technology companies should be doing. They should be innovating along a universal design ... keep reading »
Blog November 9, 2009

Advanced Bionics Is Sold — Again. Should Customers Worry?

Advanced Bionics — the only U.S. cochlear implant maker — has been acquired by Sonova, a Swiss maker of hearing aids. Sonova will pay $US 489 million for Advanced Bionics in the deal, which is expected to close in February 2010, subject to approval. Buying the Cupertino, Calif.-based Advanced Bionics thrusts Sonova, a relatively unknown maker of hearing aids, into the broader landscape of hearing-health technology. Sonova will be the first global company to manufacture both hearing instruments and cochlear implant systems, or CIs, which are implanted devices that enable profoundly hearing impaired and deaf persons to hear sounds. As part of the merger, Advanced Bionic will combine with Phonak, a Sonova unit that makes micro hearing systems such as personal amplification systems. The two companies will remain as independent units under the Sonova umbrella. With a more diverse hearing health portfolio, Sonova is betting that it can capture more share of the ... keep reading »
Life November 9, 2009

How to Find Disability-Friendly Travel Locales

While the general population has a plethora of online travel sites to surf — TripAdvisor and Travelocity come to mind — for the disabled, resources have been scarce. However, a few avid travelers with disabilities have been paving the way with new websites, search engines and wikis. The newest spot for travel tips is Disabledtravelguide.co.uk, a U.K.-based website that lets disabled travelers rate and review worldwide destinations, towns and cities on accessibility, consideration, and attitude towards travelers with special requirements. What’s more, travelers can do all this before they’ve reached their destination, saving them potential frustration and havoc that could ruin their trip. Users of Disabledtravelguide.co.uk can offer personal reviews that reflect the reality of traveling with a disability — regardless of any claims made by hotel properties, tour companies or government agencies. They can also review their own home town or city, and view policies of major airline companies and discover ... keep reading »
Blog November 9, 2009

NCTI to Showcase Social Media, Video Games at Disability Conference

At the upcoming 2009 NCTI Technology Innovators Conference, it’s no surprise that the agenda hinges on new and emerging technology trends. The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI), which hosts the conference each year, was smart to include the much-anticipated topic of social media, and those attending will hear from experts such as Steve Hargadon, founder of the Classroom 2.0 social network, and Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit think tank hat studies the social impact of the Internet. The conference will be held at The Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C. Nov. 16-17, and the first day is packed with panels. After a lunch keynote by Kareem Dale, President Obama’s Special Assistant on Disability Policy — the highest ranked spot ever created by a President on disability issues — guests will have to make a tough choice about which breakout sessions to attend. Among ... keep reading »
tech November 9, 2009

Freedom Leg Leaves Crutches in the Dust

Break a leg? Forget crutches — transfer the weight of your leg onto one of Forward Mobility’s leg braces. Joel Smith, along with his wife Patty, developed the Freedom Leg, after years of working in the bicycle industry and as an aerospace engineer at Boeing. The Freedom Leg transfers 100 percent of the weight of your step to your upper leg, enabling you to continue to use the muscles in your leg as you move around, without compromising the progress of your healing foot, which remains in a cast. The user can accomplish all their normal day-to-day tasks without assistance, while at the same time keeping the strength in upper muscles of the injured leg. Video: The Freedom Leg The Smiths’ Seattle-area company, Freedom Mobility, designs two other medical mobility products: a collapsible wheelchair and a seated scooter. The idea for the wheelchair came after Smith was asked to design a low-cost ... keep reading »
Blog November 8, 2009

Amputee Jordan Thomas Is “CNN Hero of the Year” Finalist

Jordan Thomas would like your vote. Thomas, 20, of Chattanooga, Tenn., is one of CNN’s “Top 10 CNN Heroes” for his work with the Jordan Thomas Foundation, which he founded at age 16 to provide prosthetics for children in need. A double amputee himself, Thomas has received $25,000 as a finalist and will compete as “CNN Hero of the Year,” which comes with an additional $100,000 award. Votes are being conducted through an online poll at CNN.com/Heroes. The winner will be announced in a CNN T.V. special on Thanksgiving night. Thomas lost both of his legs in a boating accident in 2005. The top-of-the-line prosthetics he was fitted with cost about $24,000. After learning that many insurance plans cover only about $5,000, Thomas began the Jordan Thomas Foundation, which has raised more than $400,000 to provide prosthetics for children in need through bracelets, charity golf tournaments and cookouts. Each year, the CNN Heroes ... keep reading »
tech November 7, 2009

Should Video Gamers Sue for Accessibility?

Video gaming is a serious sport. Just ask the readers at AbleGamers, a website where users rank and review popular video games by their ease-of-use for gamers with disabilities. Video game makers such as Epic Games, Sony and Electronic Arts treat accessibility with different levels of importance, and AbleGamers’ rankings vary from “awful” to “fully accessible.” For instance, BioWare’s Dragon Age Origins received a 9.7 (out of a possible score of 10) in the accessibility breakdown charts. Dragon Age includes subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired, as well as the option to use only subtitles for ambient noises like a dragon’s roar. For the visually impaired, Dragon Age scores high on large fonts and color contrast, and being able to see color isn’t a playing requirement. According to the review, “you can do everything except for pausing the game with only the mouse. Conversely, there are shortcuts for every ... keep reading »
tech October 24, 2009

Disaboom Launches New Website

Disaboom.com, a site that’s chock-full of disability news and information, has just relaunched its website — and it’s a beauty. The Denver-based company worked with hundreds of people with disabilities — termed “power users” — to come up with the revamp. For starters, Disaboom stripped out its user-generated content and blogs that tended to overshadow the site, and replaced them with clear and compelling sections like Disability Rights and Advocacy; Assistive Technology; and Health and Wellness. There are also speciality sections for veterans and parents of children with disabilities. And now there’s a wealth of photos, videos, and an expanded search bar. With its disability roots, Disaboom makes it easy for people with disabilities to navigate, access, and interact with various types of content, resources and services. The company was founded by Dr. J. Glen House, a physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation who is also a quadriplegic. Disaboom is also ... keep reading »
Life October 24, 2009

Skyrocketing Unemployment Leads to Higher Disability Claims

Stock-market watchers, here’s an economic nugget for you: The unemployment rate for people with disabilities has reached 16.1 percent — its highest rate since January — compared to 9.3 percent for people with no disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s third-quarter report. And one-third of disabled workers had been jobless for 27 weeks or more. While these figures are not surprising, there’s another now factor at play: The number of Americans with disabilities applying for federal disability benefits is going up, too. Applications for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, or SSDI, rose 23 percent to 2.2 million for the first nine months of 2009, up from 1.7 million a year ago, according to a study by Allsup, a company that provides legal services for those seeking such benefits. The rise in claims is tied to unemployment as more workers with disabilities who are laid off during the recession for ... keep reading »
tech October 21, 2009

A Dollar Bill Reader That’s Easy on Your Wallet

If you have trouble seeing whether you’re paying for your lunch with a $20 or a $50 bill, there’s a new banknote identifier on the market. iBill is a banknote identifier from Orbit Research that’s designed for the blind and the visually impaired. The device costs $99, which is less expensive than similar gadgets on the market. The iBill weighs 1.5 ounces and has a key-fob design so you can carry it in a pocket, purse, clipped to the belt or attached to a keychain or lanyard. It can identify your U.S. dollar bills in less than one second, and claims to have a 99 percent accuracy rate — though I haven’t tried this out. Depending on your preference, the dollar denomination can be announced by voice, tone or vibration for privacy. The unit identifies all U.S. banknotes in circulation and recognizes them in any orientation. Banknotes in poor physical condition are ... keep reading »
Blog October 14, 2009

When a Tele-Marketer Fails to Accommodate

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued a Dallas-area tele-marketing firm for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing an employee with multiple sclerosis, according to the Dallas Business Journal. The suit, filed last week in federal district court in Dallas, alleges that Mannatech, Inc. engaged in “unlawful employment practices” by firing the worker, Jill Roberts, from her job in a call center because of her disability. According to the EEOC’s complaint, Roberts also asked for a “reasonable accommodation to use the restroom on an as-needed basis.” That request was denied, the EEOC’s court records allege. Roberts has multiple sclerosis, court records say, along with a condition called neurogenic bladder syndrome, which she developed as a consequence of the multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord are attacked by the body’s immune system. Mannatech is a tele-marketing firm that sells vitamin, ... keep reading »
Blog October 14, 2009

VA May Relax Rules on Stress Disability Claims

The Veterans Affairs Department has proposed reducing the paperwork required for veterans to show that their experience in combat caused post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Under the new rules, even just the fear of hostile action would be sufficient, as long as a VA psychologist or psychiatrist agreed, according to the Associated Press. The VA says the change would streamline claims and recognize the “inherently stressful nature” of war service. Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone who is traumatized by an experience. From the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, more than 134,000 veterans have sought help at a VA facility for possible PTSD, the VA says. The symptoms include flashbacks and anxiety, and for some, it’s so debilitating that it makes it difficult to work after they leave the military. While some veterans who engage in combat automatically receive special treatment when they seek disability compensation, others must show a badge or other ... keep reading »
Life October 12, 2009

New Jersey Club Teaches Fencing to Kids in Wheelchairs

A fencing club in Maplewood, N.J., offers what are considered to be the only wheelchair fencing classes for young people in the Northeast. The New Jersey Fencing Alliance is run by Mickey Zeljkovic, a coach to Tariq al Qallaf, an adult world-champion wheelchair fencer. Zeljkovic, who is Serbian, trains a handful of young people in the program, which began in May. According to The New York Times, at the club’s headquarters, essentially a 17,500-square-foot room that holds 200 able-bodied competitors some weekends, the wheelchairs are secured to brackets that keep them from moving. Each bracket costs up to $8,000 and positions the duelers an appropriate distance from each other (determined by the fencer with the shorter reach). There are now only 27 wheelchair athletes in the United States Fencing Association, so the staff at the club believes there is ample opportunity for young people who start now to reach national-level competitions and even ... keep reading »
Blog October 9, 2009

Federal Agencies to Spur Hiring of People with Disabilities

President Obama says the government can do more to be a model to society, and has tasked several agencies with developing new plans and policies that will promote the hiring of disabled people for federal jobs in Washington. The move comes as the White House continues to recognize Disability Employment Awareness Month in October. “Across this country, millions of people with disabilities are working or want to work, and they should have access to the support and services they need to succeed. As the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government and its contractors can lead the way,” Obama says. The Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, led by Assistant Secretary Kathy Martinez, will collaborate to sponsor and organize a day-long federal government-wide job fair for people with disabilities, which will take place in early spring 2010. These two agencies, along with the Equal Employment ... keep reading »
News Watch October 8, 2009

Should Disney Admit Segways? Court Says No

By Suzanne Robitaille A disabilities lawsuit against Walt Disney Co. has been dismissed, after a judge rejected a proposed settlement from three park-goers who sued Disney for not letting them bring Segway Personal Transporters into the park. Though Disney offers personal four-wheeled scooters to those who need mobility assistance, the plaintiffs claimed that a ban on the two-wheel transporters at Disney’s theme park in Florida violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disney agreed in December to acquire at least 15 newly designed Segway-like electric stand-up vehicles, or ESVs, to settle the case. But U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell in Orlando yesterday voided the preliminary settlement and threw out the case. Presenell said the plaintiffs had failed to show that Segways were “necessary” to access the park. “Although some individuals may, with good reason, not want to use those devices and instead prefer to use a Segway, that preference — standing alone — is ... keep reading »
Blog&News Watch October 5, 2009

Sears To Pay $6.2 Million in Disability Lawsuit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has settled a class-action lawsuit against Sears, Roebuck, and Co. under the Americans With Disabilities Act for $6.2 million and significant remedial relief — representing the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history. EEOC’s suit alleged that Sears maintained an inflexible workers’ compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, in violation of the ADA. The case arose from a charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC by a former Sears service technician, John Bava, who was injured on the job, took workers’ compensation leave, and, although remaining disabled by the injuries, repeatedly attempted to return to work. Sears, according to the lawsuit, refused to provide Bava with a reasonable accommodation which would have put him back to work and, instead, fired him when his leave expired. The complaint also revealed that hundreds of other employees ... keep reading »
Blog October 5, 2009

Governors Push Back on Medicaid Expansion

The nation’s governors are pushing back on Congressional efforts for health-care reform that would potentially expand Medicaid, the program that provides subsidies to low-income persons and people with disabilities who are unable to work. States are concerned about the daunting prospect of having to pay for coverage to millions of low-income residents, especially in a time of recession. According to The Washington Post, the legislation the Senate Finance Committee is expected to approve this week calls for the biggest expansion of Medicaid since its creation in 1965. Under the Senate bill and a similar House proposal, a patchwork state-federal insurance program targeted mainly at children, pregnant women and disabled people would effectively become a Medicare for the poor, a health-care safety net for all people with an annual income below $14,404. In recent days, House Democrats have debated whether to trim Medicaid funding in their bill to make room for other priorities. Among ... keep reading »
tech September 30, 2009

Apple and Google Help Assistive Tech Go Mainstream

BusinessWeek magazine ran an article by Reena Jana about how technology for the disabled is being marketed more as mainstream innovations. Apple is one of the leaders in this space, and its products for people with disabilities are discussed at length, including its new iPhone voice control option and the not-so-new VoiceOver product, which is an essential read-out-loud “screen reader” for the blind and others who cannot physically control a computer or device. These innovations are now enhancing Apple’s iPod and iPhones, and giving it a competitive leg-up over other music players and smartphones. Two examples: motorists and exercisers love the hands-free options. “While VoiceOver helped broaden Apple’s reach to the blind, it also became a mini-engine for innovation within the company. ‘When we created the VoiceOver idea and concept for the Mac, we also realized we could take advantage of it by mainstreaming it,’ says Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice-president ... keep reading »
tech September 28, 2009

Artificial Eye System Helps Blind See

An experiment is helping the blind see images they’ve never seen before. The three-year research project involves surgically implanted electrodes, a camera worn on the bridge of the nose and a video processor, according to the New York Times. Scientists involved in the project, the artificial retina, say they have plans to develop the technology to allow people to read, write and recognize faces. There are currently close to 40 participants in the project, which includes patients from the U.S., Mexico and Europe. Advances in technology, genetics, brain science and biology are making a goal that long seemed out of reach — restoring sight — more feasible. More than 3.3 million Americans 40 and over, or about one in 28, are blind or have vision so poor that even with glasses, medicine or surgery, everyday tasks are difficult, according to the National Eye Institute, a federal agency. That number is expected ... keep reading »
Life September 28, 2009

Is the Autism Rate Going Up?

A pair of federally funded studies on autism rates is about to report that somewhere around one percent of all U.S. children currently have an autism spectrum disorder, according to The Huffington Post. The rate is even higher among six to 11 year olds and among boys, according to data from at least one of the new studies. These staggering statistics were recently released by the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), which is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to data from the 2007 telephone survey of parents of nearly 82,000 US children, the odds of a parent being told that their child has an ASD are one in 63. If it is a boy, the chances climb to one in 38, or 2.6 percent of all male children in America. But there was also some surprisingly good ... keep reading »
Blog September 28, 2009

Olympics Seats Could Convert to Wheelchairs

If Chicago wins the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, it could be a moving experience for thousands of disabled people around the world. That’s because a majority of the seats in the planned Olympic venue at Washington Park may be converted into wheelchairs for the destitute and disabled, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Designers plan to make the 80,000 seat stadium collapsible so that it won’t take up as much space once the games – should Chicago land them – are finished. That means nearly 50,000 seats will go elsewhere. So they’re hatching a plan that would convert the remaining seats into permanent wheelchairs. The idea belongs to Darren Brehm, a consultant for the Chicago 2016 bid team. Brehm has been wheelchair-bound ever since a 1990 car wreck left him paralyzed so he knows the value of this idea. keep reading »
Life September 25, 2009

Where the Blind Are Free to Tweet

Born blind, Mike Calvo was told early on not to have high expectations for a career. He even dropped out of high school. Fortunately, Calvo soon discovered how the Internet could give blind people new opportunities. Today he’s the CEO of Serotek, a software company in Minneapolis that makes the digital world — working, shopping and social networking — accessible for people who are blind or physically disabled, without having to buy specialized technology. Q: Mike, Serotek isn’t a household name, but has made great strides in the disability space. What should the broader business community know about you? A: Serotek means connected technology, and that’s really what we’re all about. We want to make sure that blind people can connect with each other and with the rest of the world. So we’re making it easier and more affordable for blind people to purchase off-the-shelf products, whether its shopping online or educating ... keep reading »
Blog September 25, 2009

AAPD Wants Your Vote for the Best Disability Commercial

American Airlines and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) are asking the public to help select the first winner of the “Altitude Award,” which honors the best U.S. television commercials featuring authentic depictions of people with disabilities. The finalists include Coca-Cola, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Chesapeake Services, Texas Lions Camp and the Courage Center. Companies and advertisers were asked to submit innovative, original television commercials that portray people with disabilities in a positive and progressive light. The public is invited to visit www.aa.com/altitudeaward and vote for their favorite commercial from the top five finalists. The voting starts today and continues through Oct. 23. The final five commercials are showcased in an online gallery for final public voting. The finalist with the most votes will receive the Altitude Award along with highly coveted free advertising onboard American Airlines planes. The Altitude Award-winning ad will be announced in November. keep reading »
Blog September 25, 2009

Wired: Hire Autistics for Better Results

In WIred magazine’s The Smart List: 12 Shocking Ideas That Could Change the World, entrepreneur Thorkil Sonne says more companies should recruit autistics. Thorne, whose youngest son was diagnosed with the mysterious developmental disorder, says that in some jobs, an autistic person’s preternatural capacity for concentration and near-total recall can be more valuable than having good people skills. In Sonne’s native Denmark, as elsewhere, autistics are typically considered unemployable. But Sonne worked in IT, a field more suited to people with autism and related conditions like Asperger’s syndrome. “As a general view, they have excellent memory and strong attention to detail. They are persistent and good at following structures and routines,” he says. In other words, they’re born software engineers. According to the article, in 2004, Sonne quit his job at a telecom firm and founded Specialisterne (Danish for “Specialists”), an IT consultancy that hires mostly people with autism-spectrum disorders. Its nearly ... keep reading »
Blog September 25, 2009

College Advice for Students with Learning Disabilities

For students with learning disabilities, applying to college is a daunting task. An article in the New York Times’ blog, The Choice, reports on a Nacac conference, “Supporting the Transition to College for Students with Learning Disabilities,” where educators tried to answer some of the nettlesome questions for high school counselors trying to guide students with disabilities — including dyslexia, ADHD and Asperger Syndrome — toward supportive colleges where they might thrive. While the Nacac conference was geared to high school counselors and college admissions officers, there was plenty of useful material for parents, too: * The Association on Higher Education and Disability found that just 28 percent of students with learning disabilities graduate. And only 25 percent of students with disabilities take advantage of the services available to them on campus. * Catherine Axe, the director of Disability Support Services at Brown University, said that it was illegal for colleges to ... keep reading »
Blog September 22, 2009

Disability Perceptions More Upbeat for 2012 Paralympics

International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven believes that perceptions of Paralympic sport and towards the disabled in society are shifting to a more positive light, according to a U.K. Telegraph article. “Over the [last] eight years Paralympic sport has become something in the hearts and and minds of spectators and television audiences and it will be about growing that and building a relationship. People who say it is not a sport are usually people who have not seen it. When people look at [sprinter] Oscar Pistorius, they see him as an incredible athlete.” Craven believes London 2012, which began in the U.K., will give the Games a greater platform to start from. He hails from Lancashire and is a former British wheelchair basketball player, widely considered the best in the world in his day. “No one knew [the Paralympic Games] could create that spirit and that is now to come ... keep reading »
Blog September 21, 2009

Mad Men Exec Loses His Foot, then His Career

An interesting scene on last night’s episode of Mad Men, which is set in the 1960s. A top executive at the Sterling Cooper ad agency — known as a “pure account man” — got his foot run over by (a drunk secretary on) a John Deere lawn mower. After he is rushed to the hospital, the doctors must amputate his foot. So the big wigs at the agency arrive at the hospital, and big wig #1 says, “He was a great account man. A prodigy. He could talk a Scotsman out of a penny.” Then big wig #2 says, “Now thats all over.” Don Draper tries to defend the amputee, but there’s really no discussion. Says big wig #2: “The man is missing a foot. How is he going to work? He can’t walk.” And big wig #1 pipes up, “The doctor said he’d never golf again.” Both big wigs agree ... keep reading »
Blog September 19, 2009

Speech Impaired Weigh In on Health Insurance Paradox

The article in The New York Times about insurers refusing to pay for speech-generating devices has hit a sore point among the disability community. Today’s newspaper reserves a section for comments from people who use these devices, including Roger Ebert, the film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times. Says Ebert: I am one of those you write about who uses a computer voice after losing the power of speech as a result of cancer surgery. After trying an $8,000 custom device with little computing power and a small, dim screen, I tried the built-in speech software on my MacBook and found it much more practical … Anyone who uses a computer and has lost the power of speech knows that e-mail becomes invaluable. It’s stupid of insurance companies to insist on an inferior device costing 10 times as much. Augie Nieto, a former fitness champion who has ALS and is well known ... keep reading »
Blog September 19, 2009

New Campaign Asks Businesses to Hire People with Disabilities

A group of disability organizations has launched the Campaign for Disability Employment to promote the hiring of people with disabilities. Actor Robert David Hall, who plays a coroner on C.S.I. and is a paraplegic, kicked off the campaign with a keynote speech at the U.S. Business Leadership Network conference in Washington, D.C. “I’m an actor, and while there are more sensible pursuits, it is our shared experience as people with disabilities that must and can bring us together.” Hall says. All people with disabilities want to work, “but assumptions can be killers” that inhibit this group from getting jobs, he says. The campaign centers around the theme “What can You do?” and seeks to reinforce that all people with disabilities want to work and that their talents will have a positive impact on businesses. Even so, in the weakened economy, people with disabilities are more likely to take a hit. ... keep reading »
Life September 18, 2009

Dr. John Kelly: What’s Cooking at IBM

Dr. John Kelly, senior vice president and director of research at IBM, spoke at the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s 2009 conference, and offered a look at some amazing IBM programs for people with disabilities. Dr. Kelly presented a visionary look at the future of the world at large through the prism of technology. He says that disability is just one of five emerging trends in the U.S., the other four being aging, families for whom English is a foreign language, low literacy rates, and non-technology users. One in five Americans have a disability. By 2025, 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 years and older in age. More than 47 million people don’t speak English at home. “This is not a niche market, this is an incredibly opportunity,” Kelly says. The disability landscape has evolved from being a philanthropic issue, to a legislative movement, to today’s market-driven environment, which has created ... keep reading »
Blog September 18, 2009

IBM Gives a Glimpse of the Future at USBLN

The USBLN conference ended today and I want to thank John Kemp and the USBLN for allowing me to come and blog the event. I met some incredible people doing some extraordinary work and came away with lots of great story ideas. Because the convention center didn’t have wireless in the breakout rooms (or maybe it did, but I was unable to access it) I was unable to personally attend these sessions. But I have all the presentations and will do some follow-up interviews and report these stories in the weeks to come. I wanted to mention Dr. John Kelly, senior vice president and director of research at IBM, who spoke yesterday on some amazing IBM programs for people with disabilities. Dr. Kelly presented a visionary look at the future of the world at large through the prism of technology. He says that disability is just one of five emerging trends in the ... keep reading »
Life September 17, 2009

Microtel’s Roy Flora: Disability Market is “Huge”

  Microtel Inns & Suites has been wooing — and wowing — its guests with disabilities for many years. This budget hotel chain offers three ADA-room designs: a single queen, double queen and suite. Travelers with disabilities have $250 billion in discretionary income, according to the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality, of which Microtel is a sponsor. “This is a huge, burgeoning market,“ says Roy Flora, group president of Microtel, speaking at the 2009 U.S. Business Leadership Network conference in Washington, D.C. “We want to be the preferred hotel chain for people with disabilities.” An accessible hotel isn’t just about getting in and out of your room. For people in wheelchairs, it’s the little features that add up, such as door viewers that are positioned lower, roll-under sinks, and a removable showerhead. For little people — those who are 4′ 10″ and under — Microtel provides Short Stature Accessibility Kits at every ... keep reading »
Life September 17, 2009

Microtel Woos Travelers with Special Needs

  Microtel Inns & Suites has been wooing — and wowing — its guests with disabilities for many years. This budget hotel chain offers three ADA-room designs: a single queen, double queen and suite. Travelers with disabilities have $250 billion in discretionary income, according to the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality, of which Microtel is a sponsor. “This is a huge, burgeoning market,“ says Roy Flora, group president of Microtel, speaking at the 2009 U.S. Business Leadership Network conference in Washington, D.C. “We want to be the preferred hotel chain for people with disabilities.” An accessible hotel isn’t just about getting in and out of your room. For people in wheelchairs, it’s the little features that add up, such as door viewers that are positioned lower, roll-under sinks, and a removable showerhead. For little people — those who are 4′ 10″ and under — Microtel provides Short Stature Accessibility Kits at every ... keep reading »
Blog September 17, 2009

Walgreens Wants to Hire 1,000 People with Disabilities by 2012

Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to realize the right thing to do. That’s what happened to Randy Lewis, senior vice president of distribution and logistics for Walgreens. When he found out his son had autism, “it was a slap in the face,” he said. Having a child with a disability has changed Lewis’ perspective on the employment landscape for people with disabilities. “If my son is like 95 percent of the other kids out there with autism, he’ll never be offered a job.,” he says. Walgreen’s highest producing distribution center in the U.S. is in Anderson, S.C. In it, 40 percent of the 700 people have a disability such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and traumatic brain injury. We knew it would have to train differently, Lewis says. “They say once you’ve seen one person with a disability, you’ve seen one person with a disability. Everyone ... keep reading »
Life September 16, 2009

Kareem Dale: Change Starts in the White House

Kareem Dale is a powerful force in Washington for disabilities. He was named to the highest ranking position on disabilities ever to be created by a U.S. President. Dale is a lawyer from Chicago who is now Obama’s special assistant for disability policy. He has the president’s ear when it comes to finding ways to employ and engage people with disabilities in America, and says the White House believes that it has to “start with its own house first.” Speaking at the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s 2009 conference in Washington, D.C., Dale says that he realizes there is still much work to be done with the Americans with Disabilities Act, despite all the blood, sweat and tears. He acknowledges that the poverty level is still too high for people with disabilities. This group, he says, “cannot earn a true wage based on the parameters that are set up.” He’s talking about ... keep reading »
Blog September 16, 2009

U.S. Business Leadership Network Conference Kicks Off

At the U.S. Business Leadership Network conference in Washington, D.C., speakers on Wednesday included the White House’s Kareem Dale, the Dept. of Labor’s Kathy Martinez and Josh Sundquist — a Paralympic skier who spun tales of humor about living life on one leg. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Josh Sundquist, Paralympics skier and inspirational speaker, was killing the crowds at Job Accommodation Network’s 25th anniversary reception, which is the end to today’s USBLN conference. He had the audience in splits as he told about how he decided to try out for a traveling soccer team at age 9 because he admired their uniforms. His leg later was amputated after chemotherapy treatments failed. “When I found out I had cancer, the only thing I could think of was that lime green uniform,” he says. During chemo he lost his hair, but when Sundquist, 25, arrived home from the hospital he found his brother had shaved ... keep reading »
Life September 16, 2009

Neil Romano on Disability’s “Blind Spot”

Neil Romano again stole the stage at the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s 2009 conference today with a candid speech about the business-disability paradigm, which he says is “still wrong.” Romano admits he’s a marketer first and foremost. It seems he got into the disability scene when he realized nobody was marketing to the group. He also uncovered a host of other problems, like employment and healthcare, and helping the disabled became his professional and personal mission. He’s now the president of CORA, an organization that hires severely disabled people for tele-work jobs. Romano’s former job as assistant secretary of the Labor Dept. went to Kathy Martinez after Presidnet Obama was elected, and he says “he couldn’t be happier with the selection.” He’s moved on, and shared some tough love with the BLN crowd. When talking about disabilities, “you have to understand the issues. And you have to know how to market them,” he ... keep reading »
Blog September 15, 2009

Why Insurers Won’t Pay for Speech-Disability Devices

The New York Times has an excellent, if not disturbing, piece on insurance companies that refuse to reimburse people with speech disabilities for devices that help them speak. This isn’t a new topic: Insurers argue that many of today’s speech-generating devices, which cost upwards of $5,000, can perform other non-speech functions like Web browsing and e-mail — making it more of a “fun and games” device but not a “dedicated” piece of equipment that they normally cover for reimbursement. This principle has led scores of people with speech disabilities, including those with autism or neuromuscular diseases, to try to find cheaper products on the mainstream market. Many have had success with Apple’s $300 iPhone 3G, which has a downloadable app called Proloqu2go that performs text-to-speech functions. Others choose to buy the specialty speech device with all the “fun and games” removed, which meets the insurers’ requirements for reimbursement. But is it ... keep reading »
Blog September 2, 2009

Bill Seeks TV and Movie Captions for the Deaf

Congressman Ed Markey introduced the “21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009” bill (H.R. 3101) on June 26, with support from the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), an alliance of deafness and blindness advocacy groups and others who want to ensure content is accessible as TV shows, movies and videos connect via the Internet using new digital and broadband technologies. The new bill would make closed captioning mandatory for large Internet television and movie distributors, excluding user-based sites such as YouTube. The bill would also lift an outdated standard enforcing closed captioning only on TV sets of 13 inches or greater, opening up captioning to smart phones and other portable devices that display video, according to The New York Daily News. Additionally, the H.R. 3101 bill also aims to revive a nullified standard on video description for the blind, a technology where a narrator verbally translates a televised ... keep reading »
Blog September 1, 2009

HSBC Agrees To Help Disabled Dispute Charges

A national credit card company has agreed to do a better job serving customers who are blind or deaf after it told a vision-impaired New Yorker she had to complete a written form to dispute a charge, according to the Associated Press. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced the agreement Tuesday with HSBC Card Services Inc. The company will make several changes in customer service and on its Web site to help customers with vision or hearing loss or other disabilities challenge charges on their accounts. The company has millions of customers nationwide, but there was no figure on how many are disabled. Cuomo’s investigation into the issue throughout the industry continues. Barbara Ruel of East Aurora, 71, who is confined to her suburban Buffalo home because of a sensitivity to chemicals as well as vision and hearing impairments, remembers the sense of outrage that drove her to launch the case. She ... keep reading »
Blog September 1, 2009

Snow Leopard Makes Mac More Accessible

Apple’s Snow Leopard operating system is a small upgrade, but features some key improvements to accessibility options, according to MacWorld. The system supports Braille displays, trackpads that register touches or gestures, and controls for speech, voice and audio. Apple had already introduced VoiceOver, its version of a screen reader, with its Tiger OS. A later version called Leopard added a more human-sounding synthesized voice called Alex. With Snow Leopard, which launched this week, the improvements are small, but crucial. For example, a multi-touch trackpad can now represent the entire active window allowing you to hear what’s on screen by touching specific areas of the trackpad. “Using Trackpad Commander, touch the upper left corner of the trackpad, and VoiceOver will tell what’s in the upper left of the screen. Drag your finger, and VoiceOver will tell you what’s in the frontmost window your finger ‘touches.’ Additionally, you can move to items ... keep reading »
tech September 1, 2009

A New E-Book Service for Disabled Students

The American Association of Publishers launched a new online service that will give college students with print disabilities, such as blindness or dyslexia, easier access to alternative forms of textbooks. AccessText is a new national database that allows participating U.S. colleges and universities to share and access formatted electronic files from eight major college textbook publishers — without having to seek the publisher’s permission for each and every book. The database is funded by and populated with textbooks from Bedford/St. Martin’s, Cengage Learning, CQ Press, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson, Reed Elsevier, and W.W. Norton, who create more than 90 percent of all college textbooks. All of the publishers are members of the AAP, a trade association comprising 174 publishing companies. Traditionally, publishers have been wary of digital book efforts, even for the disabled, arguing that these newer forms are copyrighted — and must be paid for. For instance, ... keep reading »
Life August 27, 2009

Emerging Leaders Finds Internships for Students with Disabilities

By Suzanne Robitaille Internships are a cornerstone of a student’s college experience, but only a few programs exist to place students with disabilities. One notable front-runner is Emerging Leaders, which finds and places qualified college and graduate students with disabilities into paid summer internships throughout Corporate America. In 2009, more than 100 students competed for internships at MetLife, CIT, JPMorgan Chase, Mutual of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin and Shell. The students were selected from a pool of nearly 100 qualified applicants from colleges and universities across the country. As part of the application process, students had to have a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit an essay on how living with a disability has had an impact on their lives. At a recent gathering at MetLife in New York City, the Class of 2009 shared their experiences and heard from the program’s benefactors. The students had just completed a rigorous two-day ... keep reading »
Life August 13, 2009

Yankees, E&Y Honored for New York Disabilities Acts

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg honored seven organizations and individuals, including Ernst & Young and the New York Yankees, for their contributions to increasing accessibility for people with disabilities. At a Gracie Mansion reception on Wednesday celebrating the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the recepients were given awards for their “commitment to enhancing the quality of the lives of people with disabilities,” says Matthew Sapolin, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. The five awards were presented to: Ernst & Young, who was honored for its contributions to Title I of the ADA, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability. The New York-headquarted global consulting company has a widely known employee-resource group and recruits employees — “Abilities Champions” — to help disseminate disabilities-awareness messages to the company and industry at large. The U.S. Olympic Committee, City Parks Foundation and the New York City Department of ... keep reading »
Blog August 13, 2009

Gadget Lets Disabled Pilots Fly Planes

Cars can be modified so the disabled can drive, but there are few options for people who can’t use their legs but still wish to fly. But now that’s changing, according to an article in Wired. A flight instructor in Minnesota, Scott Johnson, is teaching people who cannot use their legs to fly. He asked engineers at Flight Design in Germany, a plane manufacturer, about the possibility of modifying the airplane used by his flight school to only need hand controls, much like a car with the brake and throttle controls on the steering wheel. Flight Design modified a conventional control stick by giving it two handles — allowing a pilot to control the traditional foot pedals that direct the rudder with his or her hands instead. keep reading »
Life August 13, 2009

Report Sees Major Gaps In Emergency Planning for People with Disabilities

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, thousands of people – including those with disabilities – were left stranded in the rising waters. For many people with disabilities, there was no means of accessible transportation out of the danger zone; shelters and trailers weren’t set up to accommodate them, and when it was all over many accessible homes had been damaged or destroyed. Similar scenarios played out during Hurricane Rita in 2006 and elsewhere, where Americans with mobility, sensory and cognitive disabilities were unable to remove themselves from danger or were not afforded the same disaster protections as non-disabled people. As we enter hurricane season once again, emergency preparedness is a cause for national concern. It’s an issue that the National Council on Disability (NCD), the federal agency that promotes equal opportunity policies for Americans with disabilities, has taken on in recent years – and does not take lightly. On Wednesday the ... keep reading »
Blog August 12, 2009

Spanking for Disabled Students is Higher

The New York Times reports that disabled students are spanked more, based on a study of corporal punishment in 21 states. The study shows that more than 200,000 schoolchildren are paddled, spanked or subjected to other physical punishment each year, and disabled students get a disproportionate share of the treatment. The Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, the two watchdog groups that prepared the report, are pressing federal and state lawmakers to extend a corporal punishment ban nationwide and enact an immediate moratorium on physical punishment of students with disabilities. In federal Department of Education data, 223,190 public school students nationwide were reported to have been paddled during the 2006-07 school year. Of these, at least 19 percent — about 41,972 students — had disabilities. Nationwide, students with disabilities make up 14 percent of all students. As recently as the 1970s, only two states had laws banning corporal punishment, but 28 ... keep reading »
Blog August 12, 2009

Special Olympics Founder Eunice Shriver Dies

From the Los Angeles Times: Eunice Shriver, whose advocacy for the mentally disabled helped bring people with special needs into the mainstream of American life, died Tuesday at 88. Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy and the mother of California first lady Maria Shriver, died at a hospital in Hyannis, Mass. President Obama called Shriver “an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation — and our world — that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit.” Shriver’s advocacy for the mentally disabled has been called the Kennedy family’s most important campaign. The 1968 founding of the Special Olympics, which grew out of a summer camp Shriver started at her family farm in suburban Maryland, went a long way toward erasing long-held stigmas that the Kennedy family knew well because Eunice had a sister, Rosemary, who was mentally disabled. With a family ... keep reading »
tech August 7, 2009

Cognitive Games Pump Up your Brainpower

  Few people don’t love a quick game of online Solitaire or Sudoku. Computer games that challenge our memory and concentration are so popular that there’s more than 4,000 puzzle games in the iPhone app store. Since our cognitive functions thrive and improve when stimulated, its a no-brainer that people with cognitive disabilities can also benefit from regular mental workouts to increase memory and speed-processing, among other skills. Cognitive disabilities such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis -– which attacks the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord –- can cause a variety of symptoms like blurred vision, memory problems or concentration fatigue. The MS Technology Collaborative, a group made up of the National MS Society, Microsoft and Bayer HealthCare, recently launched MyBrainGames, a free suite of online cognitive games for the MS community. The games are available at the group’s website, MyMSMyWay.com. According to the 2007 book, Get Your Brain in the Fast ... keep reading »
tech August 6, 2009

A New Brain Game for People with MS

Approximately 400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. About half of the people living with MS develop cognitive challenges, which can involve difficulty with skills like memory, concentration, organization and problem-solving. The MS Technology Collaborative, a group made up of the National MS Society, Microsoft and Bayer HealthCare, has teamed up to launch MyBrainGames, a free suite of online cognitive games for the MS community. The games are available at the group’s website, MyMSMyWay.com. “This is the first online game designed specifically for people with MS,” says Ellen Kampel, director of Microsoft’s Accessibility Unit. The project took about a year to bring to fruition: “We worked with a team of healthcare professionals specializing in MS and cognition, as well as members of the MS community to make it happen,” she added. MyBrainGames includes three games: Shopping List, Word Connect and ... keep reading »
tech August 5, 2009

Google Voice Makes Visual Voicemail a Reality for Deaf

Google Voice, a new service that creates a single phone number and inbox for managing all of your phones and voicemail, provide a myriad of alternative ways to use and control the phone. Available by invite only, Google Voice is looking to be a very useful application for people with a wide range of disabilities once it launches to the public. Google Voice provides users with a new, unique phone number. That number will be their public number to put on business cards and public document, and can be associated with numerous existing numbers, like a landline and cell phone. With Google Voice, all SMS and voicemail messages are delivered to your inbox. You can selectively filter calls to view voicemail only, SMS only, calls placed, received, or missed. The app is also building on speech-recognition technology to transcribe voicemail into text. That’s right: people with hearing disabilities will benefit from Google’s attempt ... keep reading »
Blog July 30, 2009

“Adam:” All the Quirks of Love and Asperger’s

Last night I saw the opening of Adam at the Angelika Film Center in New York. This movie gives a raw and amusing look into the peculiar life of a 29-year old man with Asperger’s syndrome who falls in love. Adam (Hugh Dancy) has never been outside of New York City. Both his parents are dead. He eats cereal for breakfast, goes to work, then comes home and eats dinner, to give you a sense of how he craves routine. When he meets his next-door neighbor Beth (Rose Bryne), sparks fly, but not in the way you’d expect. Because of his Asperger’s, Adam lacks the requisite social skills to recognize charm and other innuendo that usually accompanies flirting; a light touch on the arm, an extra-long glance, an opening to ask her out — all fall flat. Instead, Adam shows Beth his home-spun planetarium, set against the backdrop of his shower curtain. As ... keep reading »
Blog July 29, 2009

EEOC Says Asking for Health Stats Violates ADA

Asking an employee to disclose health information before joining a health-insurance plan could be against the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to The Wall Street Journal. More employers are requiring employees to fill out health-risk assessments, or HRAs, if they want to be eligible for the company’s health plan. These surveys include questions about workers’ habits, personal health and family medical histories. Employers, who typically subsidize 70 percent to 80 percent of healthcare premiums, want to ensure that workers are taking all the necessary steps to manage their health and use the HRA results to plan employer-sponsored wellness programs, such as smoking cessation and weight-loss courses. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that protects ADA policy in the workplace — and can initiate lawsuits on the behalf of employees — says that although the EEOC hasn’t taken a formal position, they believe “that [such a] proposed policy would violate provisions of the ... keep reading »
Blog July 29, 2009

Labor Dept. Launches Disability.gov

The U.S. Department of Labor has relaunched its website with a new name, Disability.gov. The new site provides information about programs and services for the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities and their family and friends. Disability.gov now mashes-up content from 22 federal agencies and will be managed by the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The site now has a more user-friendly navigation; for example, from the home page visitors can reach what they need, including: finding a job, applying for disability benefits; learning about disability laws; learning about assistive technology; finding health care and seeking federal government grants, among other needs. Additionally, the former DisabilityInfo.gov site was also revamped with social media tools, including a Twitter feed, RSS, a blog, and social bookmarking. Visitors can sign up for personalized news and updates, participate in online discussions and suggest resources for the site. keep reading »
tech July 28, 2009

‘Snap and Translate’ on a Cell Phone

f you’re going to buy assistive technology, there’s no doubt you can put your trust in Ray Kurzweil, a 30-year industry pioneer who invented the world’s first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind. knfb Reading Technology, a joint venture of Kurzweil Technologies and The National Federation of the Blind, recently debuted the smallest text-to-speech reading devices in history for people with print disabilities. The kReader Mobile helps those with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, while the knfb Reader Mobile is designed for the blind and visually impaired. These devices are a Nokia N82 cell phone with a five-pixel camera loaded with character-recognition and text-to-speech software from knfb Reading Technology. The phone can snap pictures of any printed material and read it aloud on the spot, including a book, email, restaurant menu, receipt or sign. It can even read U.S. currency to help a blind person know whether he’s using a $5 or ... keep reading »
Blog July 28, 2009

ATIA Announces Web Series on Assistive Technology

The Assistive Technology Industry Association has launched a series of web seminars aimed at increasing awareness of new and innovative assistive technologies and services for use by people with disabilities. The new web series complements ATIA’s conferences — held twice a year — and leadership forums that bring together high-profile assistive technology professionals to share ideas and best practices. The next conference will be held in Chicago in October. The goal of the ATIA Webinar Series is to increase awareness of assistive technology and train everyone — from teachers to employers — to understand and assess the thousands of assistive technology products on the market for people with disabilities. These products span the assistive technology spectrum, from augmentative and alternative communication; blind/low vision; computer access; Web accessibility; K-12 and higher education technology; and deaf and hard-of-hearing. “With the addition of webinars we can reach a much wider audience and can do ... keep reading »
Blog July 28, 2009

Schools Get a Funding Boost for Technology

As back-to-school approaches, the amount of federal dollars to incorporate technology in the classroom — and prepare teachers to use it — is expected to rise this year. That’s good news for students with disabilities who can benefit from off-the-shelf technologies in addition to any hardware and software provided for them under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). According to The Wall Street Journal, the economic stimulus package provided $98.2 billion for everything from classroom technology, to school renovations to IDEA. Additionally, it restored $650 million in funding to The Enhancing Education Through Technology program that was authorized in 2002 as part of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. However, local officials say it’s still not nearly enough to make up for several years of cutbacks, which has affected peripheral studies, such as music and art. But for the required classes, such as reading and history, the boost in technology ... keep reading »
Blog July 25, 2009

Obama Marks Disabilities Act

President Obama marked the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he said resulted from a movement carried out by people who “refused to accept a second-class status in America.” In remarks at the White House, where he signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Obama said the ADA “began when they not only refused to accept the way the world saw them, but also the way they had seen themselves,” according to UPI. Obama praised several officials who helped get the ADA enacted, including Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. Former President George H.W. Bush, who signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, gave some praise to Obama on the eve of the act’s anniversary: “I congratulate President Obama for taking some time today to remember the 19th ... keep reading »
Blog July 25, 2009

Wheelchair Hero Movie Previewed at Comic-Con

James Cameron, who directed the Oscar-winning movie Titanic, arrived at San Diego’s Comic-Con — to the world’s largest comic book convention — to show the first public footing from his new disability-themed movie, according to Rolling Stone. Cameron showed nearly half an hour’s worth of scenes for his sci-fi epic, Avatar, which features a wheelchair-bound soldier who explores a new planet in a tall, blue, reptile-like avatar body. His rival and lover teaches him how to survive on the planet, called Pandora. Sigourney Weaver, who starred in Cameron’s Aliens, has a role as a botanist in the movie. The movie, which opens December 18, is being praised for it’s computer graphics as well as the design that went into creating the alien worlds and life-forms. keep reading »
Blog July 25, 2009

For Hearing Aid Users, Fit and Function Come First

The New York Times chronicled the exasperations of buying a hearing aids, reminding users that aids are expensive — with prices averaging $2,000 each — and generally not covered by insurance. Hearing aid shopping is a pressing issue for those with hearing loss, especially those with age-related loss who aren’t used to such large out-of-pocket expenses. The best advice, however, is to choose an experienced audiologist or specialist, instead of relying on walk-in stores or Internet purchases. It’s the only way to ensure fit and a program that’s right for you. “No matter how state of the art your hearing aid may be …if it is not properly programmed and adjusted it will not do you any good,” says Lise Hamlin, director of public policy for the Hearing Loss Association. While most people pay for hearing aids with their own wallet, a few exceptions include Veterans Affairs programs and some federal employee ... keep reading »
Blog July 25, 2009

Celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act in Tougher Times

  Break out the balloons! Sunday marks the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the law that guarantees equal opportunity for the nearly 54 million Americans with disabilities. Signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, the ADA touches many areas of life, including employment. Hold on, did that balloon just deflate? I’ve just read the most recent employment numbers for the 13 million working-age Americans with disabilities. In June, only 23 percent of disabled people had jobs, vs. 72 percent of those without disabilities. This makes me wonder, is the nearly 20-year-old ADA really helping? The disabled unemployment rate – currently at 14.3 percent — has steadily declined since the passage of the ADA. Disability-friendly companies like IBM, Wal-Mart and Ernst & Young openly hire qualified people with disabilities, and from high-profile disability organizations like the U.S. Business Leadership Network. More employers are aware of disability, reasonable accommodation and ... keep reading »
Blog July 22, 2009

VA Pays for Vets’ Disability Equipment in the Home

The New York Times reported that veterans who use Veterans Affairs’ health care system and have a disability that requires equipment being added to their homes — such as wheelchair ramps — can get their bills paid in full by the VA. “Your V.A. doctor can refer you to a specialist who will come to your home and determine what changes need to be made. The V.A. will then find someone to make the modifications, at no charge to you. If your home requires permanent changes, like a ramp instead of front steps, you will have to apply for a Home Improvements and Structural Alterations grant, said Neal Eckrich, the National Prosthetic Program Manager for the V.A. The grants range from $1,200 to $4,100. If your income in the past has been slightly too high to qualify for V.A. health benefits, you should check the new limits. The income thresholds were raised ... keep reading »
Life July 21, 2009

Shooting for the Stars

Kevin Laue, a 19-year-old basketball player, won a scholarship in May to attend Manhattan College this fall. Being recruited for a Division I team is a feat in its own, but Laue has really earned his stripes. A birth injury resulted in his left arm being amputated at his elbow, and he plays basketball with one hand. But being pitted against two-handed players in a prestigious league doesn’t scare Laue, who believes in focusing on his ability — both on and off the court. Q: Kevin, how are you mentally preparing yourself to play basketball at such a high level, when no other players are likely to have a disability such as yours? A: I honestly believe that God has helped me get this far, so I hope he still blesses me and gives me the opportunity to to perform my best. But my mental mindset consists of telling myself that ... keep reading »
Blog July 13, 2009

Eye-Gazing Software Helps Disabled Gamers

Technology that allows gamers to control game functions with only their eyes is helping to open virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft to people with severe motor disabilities. The gaming-with-gaze software – a first version of which has been made publicly available for free – is one of several applications to emerge from COGAIN, an EU-funded network of excellence aimed at coordinating efforts from developers of new communications tools for people with disabilities using gaze and eye-tracking technology. For people suffering from conditions such as cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease or so-called locked-in syndromes, being able to move around and interact in a virtual environment is a “truly liberating experience,” says Howell Istance, a computer scientist who helped develop the software. The gaming-with-gaze software works in combination with commercially available eye trackers that use cameras to monitor users’ eye movements as they gaze at a computer screen. The developers ... keep reading »
Blog July 13, 2009

A Gym Designed for Wheelchair Users

A new piece of gym equipment for people with physical disabilities is currently in the top running for the U.K.’s James Dyson Award, a prestigious design award. The Access is universal fitness equipment that accommodates those with various disabilities and able-bodied users alike. Comprised of a central tower with two arms extending laterally, each arm rotates 180 degrees independently and can be configured for a user’s unique needs. The Access is the brainchild of a gym-goer — whose name remains anonymous for the duration of the contest — who witnessed a man in a wheelchair enter a local fitness club and attempt to work out using a bag full of homemade accessories attached to the back of his wheelchair. The man in the wheelchair “spent more time transferring in and out of his wheelchair and adjusting to the equipment, than actually performing his exercises.” The James Dyson Award is open to ... keep reading »
Blog July 13, 2009

DynaVox Buys Blink Twice

Pittsburgh-based DynaVox Mayer-Johnson, a provider of speech generators and other devices for people with speech, language and learning disabilities, has merged with Blink Twice. DynaVox’s purchase will help expand its product line of communications devices, including the Tango, a new speech-generating device for children and teens with significant speech and language challenges. The Tango is unique in that it’s a small, kid-friendly handheld device that lets users talk using pictures, lists, photo albums, spelling and custom vocabularies. You can try out the device here. Richard Ellenson, Blink Twice founder and CEO, and the father of a child who uses the Tango, will join DynaVox as Chief Vision Officer. In his new role, Ellenson will take active roles in product development and strategic planning efforts. He will also direct advocacy initiatives and focus on raising awareness of speech disabilities and solutions within the general population. keep reading »
Blog July 2, 2009

Study Shows Link Between Entrepreneurism and Dyslexia

A new study of entrepreneurs in the U.S. suggests that dyslexia is much more common among small-business owners than even the experts had thought. A study by London’s Cass Business School reported that more than a third of the U.S. entrepreneurs surveyed — 35 percent — identified themselves as dyslexic. The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely than non-dyslexics to delegate authority and to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses. The study, reported in The New York Times, was based on a survey of 139 business owners in a wide range of fields across the U.S. The numbers were significantly higher than a similar Cass Business School poll in 2001, in which 20 percent of British entrepreneurs said they were dyslexic. The higher number of dyslexic entrepreneurs in the U.S. is attributed to earlier and more effective intervention by ... keep reading »
Blog July 1, 2009

BLN Unveils Plan to Certify Disabled-Owned Businesses

Today’s the day! The U.S. Business Leadership Network, a national B2B disability organization, is launching a soft pilot of a new certification program for disability-owned businesses. Yes, you heard it right: The BLN’s new Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) certification program will certify companies that undergo a rigorous application process and meet strict criteria, including being 51 percent or more owned and operated by a disabled person, including service-disabled veterans. According to John Kemp, BLN’s executive director, the DOBE program is the first of its kind, and will be accepted as the “gold standard” by which U.S. companies, federal and government agencies make corporate supply chain and procurement decisions. The program is modeled off the Women-Owned Business Enterprise, a program run by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council that’s is recognized by more than 1,000 U.S. companies. Business Leadership Network has affiliates around the country. DOBE certification is a great resource for corporations ... keep reading »
Blog June 21, 2009

Captioners for the Deaf Are “Unsung Heros”

It didn’t mention Abledbody and I’m not really a Yankees fan, but I got a mention in today’s insightful New York Times article about Cory Macchiarola, the man who is behind the scenes captioning Yankees and Mets’ games for the deaf and hard of hearing. It’s a really tough job, I can imagine. Macchiarola began his career captioning Yankees games for TV in real-time. Not only did he capture the broadcasters’ play-by-play, he also translated live commentary from the sportscasters — some who talk a mile a minute; others who discuss “obscure movies with foreign names or unexpected topics like the fear of flutes (aulophobia).” After several grueling years with the Yankees, Macchiarola took a job at Citi Field to caption the comparatively easy public-address announcements at Mets’ games, which appear on the scoreboard. A lot of the text can be pre-programmed, including the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner and Sweet ... keep reading »
Life June 19, 2009

Deaf Artists Featured in New York Gallery

–by Cara Sanders Artists are often inspired by personal events or experiences in their everyday lives. At one New York Gallery, a group of deaf artists are opening a window into their distinct culture and community. Tamarind Art Gallery in New York City is showcasing 10 deaf and hard-of-hearing artists at Sonic Chromatic, an exhibit featuring members of New York City’s Deaf Council, a not-for-profit organization that aims to promote awareness and interaction between the deaf and hearing community. Through various mediums, such as painting, printmaking, sculpture, video, and installation, the artists work to portray their own experience as a deaf or hard-of-hearing person. Each artist has a unique style and mode of expression that distinguishes him or her from the rest. Two of the most striking pieces include Patti Durr’s “And There Was Light” and Robin Bartholick’s “Trust.” Durr’s mixed-media collage draws from a folk-art precedence. In this piece, a woman with the ... keep reading »
Blog June 19, 2009

California’s No-Proof-Needed Disability Law

The motto of Del Taco’s restaurant is “Go Bold or Go Home.” Kenneth Munson chose the first option. He sued the taco chain in 2005 after he was unable to get his wheelchair into their “narrow” restroom entrance. As a result, he had to go across the street to another business to use the facilities. Earlier this week, the California State Supreme Court sided with Munson. The unanimous ruling now makes it possible for California businesses to be sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act without proving the business did so “intentionally.” This is a mucho grande ruling. Federal law doesn’t let individuals sue — nor collect damage relief — for disability discrimination. A government agency must intervene on their behalf. But California lets individuals do both. And with this new no-proof-required ruling, Californians with disabilities now have an even stronger hand to play. Could this decision hurt small businesses ... keep reading »
Blog June 16, 2009

Senator Harkin Says Community Choice Act Is about “Civil Rights”

Speaking before a crowd on Capitol Hill, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said expanding federal benefits for people with disabilities is “a civil rights issue.” The senator, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, is also the sponsor of the Community Choice Act, one of two proposals introduced this year that that would significantly expand federal assistance for people in need of long-term care. Harkin and other advocates of the measures are folding their efforts into President Obama’s push for health-care reform. At issue is the government-funded Medicaid program, which serve the disabled and elderly. The Community Choice Act would reform Medicaid to give recipients eligible for institutional-level care the choice of receiving in-home or community-based assistance rather than nursing home care. Currently, individuals seeking in-home care must apply through a waiver program — but there’s a long waiting line. HELP Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has sponsored a ... keep reading »
Blog June 16, 2009

EEOC to Hold Public ADA Meeting in Washington

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will meet Wednesday in Washington to consider new regulations covering the recently amended Americans with Disabilities Act. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at EEOC agency headquarters and will be open to the public. The 2008 Amendments Act, which was signed by President George Walker Bush and went into effect Jan. 1, 2009, emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis. The Act also makes important changes to the definition of the term “disability” by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of EEOC’s ADA regulations. The effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the ... keep reading »
Blog June 16, 2009

Disabled Veterans Report to Entrepreneurs’ Boot Camp

Kicking off its second year, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities will hold summer sessions around the country to teach recent veterans on how to start a business or new career. The first group of 20 veterans has reported for duty at Florida State University’s College of Business. They’ll immerse themselves in entrepreneurship ideas and concepts during the week-long program, which is run by faculty and successful entrepreneurs. Veterans will also get to hear from professionals in various industries about entrepreneurship. In this the second year of the program, the students will hear a keynote address by a 2008 boot camp graduate, J.R. Martinez, who attended the program to learn how to market his persona and now is a regular cast member on the television show “All My Children.” The EBV program begins with a three-week online course and culminates in the on-campus residency “boot camp.” There is ... keep reading »