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profoundly yours the abledbody blog

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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
A blind blogger has started a letter-writing campaign asking President Obama to support global access to books for the blind and visually impaired. Darrell Shandrow, a technical support engineer who is the editor of Blind Access Journal, is petitioning the White House to direct U.S. delegates in the World Intellectual Property Organization to sign an international treaty that would expand U.S. copyright exemptions to blind and other people with print disabilities in the rest of the world. People with visual impairments are able to purchase “talking” versions of print books under a copyright exemption called 17 USC Section 121 that allows certain authorized organizations to make books accessible without the constant need to obtain written permission from publishers. Organizations include The National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) and Physically Handicapped, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), Bookshare and ReadHowYouWant. Visually impaired persons can “read” these books on a digital e-book ... keep reading »
Facebook is working with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) to make its social-networking service more accessible to users who are blind or visually impaired. The non-profit organization’s president and CEO, Carl Augusto, made this initiative a priority after finding that he and others with sight impairments had difficulties updating their profiles and using the site. Augusto, a self-described music fan who played in two garage bands when he was younger, uses Facebook to connect with former band members and fans. People who are blind or visually impaired can use computers with a screen magnification program that enlarges fonts, or they use a screen-reading program that reads the text aloud. These are quick, efficient and helpful solutions — that is, if the websites and computer programs are properly designed. Facebook presents some unique challenges because images and photos are are rarely described with a text caption, and the myriad of ... keep reading »