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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 »
  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 »
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 »
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 »
When Apple announced a host of new features for its next-generation iPhone in March, they unveiled a few surprises, but kept the best ones under wraps. Until today, at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple revealed gigantic news: its new iPhone 3G S has a built-in screen reader for people with visual impairments — bringing this group one step closer to total cell-phone accessibility. The 3G S introduces VoiceOver for iPhone, Apple’s proprietary screen reader that speaks what appears on the iPhone display. VoiceOver lets visually impaired users make iPhone calls, read email, browse web pages, play music and run applications. TOUCH-SCREEN TECH. VoiceOver is already built into the Mac and iPod Shuffle, but for iPhone this screen reader is a whole new ball game. Calling it the world’s first gesture-based screen reader, VoiceOver for iPhone reads aloud what is touched on the screen. Users can then gesture with ... keep reading »
Despite efforts by blind advocacy groups, the U.S. has sided against a World Intellectual Property Organization treaty agreement that would make books accessible to more blind and visually impaired individuals, as well as those with dyslexia or physical disabilities, throughout the world. The Obama administration, the governments of Canada and the European Union, and several other countries have opposed this initiative, which was introduced by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay and supported by many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in Asia and Africa. Other supporters include the World Blind Union, the National Federation of the Blind, Bookshare and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, among others advocacy groups. Proposal advocates want to expand a U.S. copyright exemption to allow books to be distributed in alternative formats — such as text-to-speech, Braille and large type — to blind and visually impaired individuals around the world. The treaty would have ... keep reading »
This is a question I am often asked: Does the shaky economy make it harder for people with disabilities to find a job? Undoubtedly, yes. The job marketplace is more competitive, and frankly, it’s easier for an employer to hire someone who doesn’t need an accommodation. Though the American with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination of the disabled, it still happens indirectly — and more so when the hiring pool is larger. Just look at U.S. employment rates from the past year. Only 46 percent of working-age people with disabilities held jobs, vs. 84 percent of non-disabled people. The national unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 12.9 percent in April 2009, compared to 8.6 percent for non-disabled Americans. And here’s a little-known fact: It takes someone with a disability 10 times longer to land a job than the average person. “Employers want to hire people with disabilities but they’re often not trained ... keep reading »
Researchers in Northern Ireland are examining how high-tech clothing could improve the lives of older people and people with disabilities, according to the BBC. The three-year project could see electronic devices built in to clothing that could provide information ranging from heart rate to bus timetables — helping these groups living more independently. The University of Ulster’s Computer Science Research Institute has been doing work on assistive technologies for independent living and healthcare monitoring. Its director, Professor Bryan Scotney, said they would be looking at sensor technologies that would automatically adjust to meet the elderly and disabled’s daily living needs. This technology could have benefits as diverse as monitoring temperature in the home and automatically adjusting the thermostat, to even providing a life-saving tool by alerting a doctor or relative if heart rate drops. Only time will tell if the merger of textiles and electronics marks the beginning of a new industrial revolution. keep reading »
Some people have asked me to give them a better description of assistive technology. I often hestitate to answer without informing them that sometimes, assistive technology isn’t the answer to people with disabilities’ needs and that our society should be more focused on universal design, or at least accessible technology. Now you’re even more confused, right? Well, take a look at the picture of this Coke can. A blogger at Yanko Design created it to demonstrate how a braille-label maker might help people who are blind identify products such as soft drinks, money and spices. The Coke can is the product; the label represents the assistive technology, meaning something has been added to the product to make it useable by the person with a disability. However, if the Coke can was made accessible to the blind, it would have some braille built into the aluminum can. If we applied universal design principles, ... keep reading »
The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2009 conference in Orlando is off to a great start. I attended sessions on VoiceOver for iTunes, and Apple shipped in 50 or so brand-new Macs to demonstrate speech capabilities for the iTunes library, a new accessibility feature that will be rolled out by summer. A visually impaired attendee, Adam Gaffney, who works for Florida’s agency for blind services, whizzed through VoiceOver and pointed out potential goofs. I couldn’t hear on the available earbuds so I tried to follow along somewhat haphazardly. But it’s still a very cool feature. Microsoft presented the new built-in screen magnifier for Windows 7. A nice add-in for the visually impaired, if not basic. I also attended an awe-inspiring talk by Benetech’s Jim Fruchterman, who I met several years ago when he launched Bookshare.org, an audio book service for the blind that’s essentially like Napster for books (only he ... keep reading »

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