Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Celebrate Ed Roberts Day on January 23rd

CFILC sponsored national Ed Roberts Day legislation

The California Foundation for Independent Living centers applauds the overwhelming passage of legislation honoring pioneering disability rights advocate Ed Roberts in the House of Representatives. Authored by Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), House Resolution 1759 declares the House’s support for a national “Ed Roberts Day” to be held on January 23rd.  

“Ed Roberts was a ground breaking leader who helped galvanize the disability rights movement around the fundamental idea that all people should have the opportunity to pursue education, go to work and live in the community,” said Sheri Burns, Chair of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers.

“As we recognize Ed’s lifetime of leadership in the Disability Rights Movement we remain committed to continuing his work by advocating for access, equality, and full inclusion of people with disabilities.”

In addition to supporting the establishment of Ed Roberts Day, Miller’s legislation acknowledges the accomplishments Roberts made in helping reduce barriers, increase access and improve lives for persons with disabilities.

Roberts, who passed away in 1995, was the first student with significant disabilities to attend UC Berkeley, where he began advocacy efforts and helped found the nation’s first student-driven disabled students program. Roberts founded the Independent Living Center in Berkeley, directed the California Department of Rehabilitation and was a key leader in the national disability rights movement. Roberts later co-founded and became the President of the World Institute on Disability.

The full text of H Res 1759 is here. The resolution was sponsored by the California Foundation for Independent Living and cosponsored by Representatives Sam Farr, Rush Holt, Barbara Lee and James Langevin.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Say Bye-Bye to TTYs

Written by Allan Friedman, CFILC’s Technologies Manager

Once on the cutting edge of assistive technology, the Teletypewriter (TTY), also known as a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), is well on its way to the scrap heap of history.
The advent of instant messaging, text messaging and video relay have left the analog technology of baud rates and caller protocols in the dust, providing more direct and much easier communications for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Invented in 1963 by James C. Marsters and Robert Weitbrechtin, TTYs were based on technology first created in the 1870s for stock tickers.  They converted text to audio signals that could be carried across telephone lines, deciphered and displayed on the other end.  TTYs were the first tool that enabled people who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate with others over the phone.   

But like any technology, TTYs had their limitations.  There had to be one on the other end of a call, meaning calls could only be placed among TTY users.   A person who was deaf could not call someone with hearing unless they had a TTY as well.  This limited the ways a person who is deaf could use a telephone.  They could not, for instance, call a restaurant to make reservations, make a payment over the phone, or call a neighborhood business unless that business happened to have a TTY.  People with hearing, who were infrequent users of TTYs, had to learn a number of protocols like “sk” and “gh” to signal when they finished “talking” and the person on the other end could begin typing. 

Over the last decade as broadband access became more available and mobile phones become “smarter,” instant messaging and texting took off.  For the first time, people who are deaf could communicate directly with anyone on an equal footing. Texting began to level the communications playing field for people with disabilities.  The introduction of video relay services in 2003 added a new dimension, allowing the use of ASL and providing better, more real-time communications than was possible using a TTY.  Skype and other video chat services enable people who are deaf to speak directly to each other in real time, without the delays usually associated with TTY use.

Mobile communications technology continues to become more powerful, faster, and more adaptable.  New applications are expanding their use and, fortuitously, making the devices more universally accessible and usable. There is still a ways to go before everyone can use them, voice activation features are still not quite good enough to handle many speech impairments, but touch screens, text-to-speech and other features are enabling many people with disabilities to communicate more easily and more directly than ever before.

While the technology behind TTYs is history, it will still be several more years before the machines disappear for good.  As we look forward to the communications advances on the horizon, it is important to remember that there are still many people with disabilities on the wrong end of the digital divide who still depend on legacy systems such as TTYs.  We must continue to advocate and push for universal access to technology so these people are not also left behind on the dust heap of history.   But we can look forward to one day soon saying bye-bye to the TTY.

What are your experiences with TTY machines? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments box below. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

AT Network Survey--We need your input before January 10

Are you a Californian who cares about assistive technology (AT) and/or disability issues? If so, the AT Network needs your input! Please take 10-15 minutes to complete an important survey about assistive technology and California’s AT Network project. The survey will be open through Monday, January 10.

This survey is designed to be completed by Californians with an interest in assistive technology and/or disability issues. Please feel free to forward this email to others who may meet these qualifications.

Click the link below to take the survey:

Thank you very much for your time and input. Your responses will help build a stronger AT Network.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Web Accessibility--the Basics

Written by Rosemarie Punzalan, Communication Specialist and resident web accessibility expert, CFILC

Whether you are a novice with little or no web development experience or new to accessibility, it doesn't hurt to understand the basics of POUR Web Usability.  POUR stands for Perceivable Operable Understandable Robust.  Below are just some examples to give you a basic understanding of POUR.

Many of us surf the Internet to access communication, commerce, entertainment, information, and other important aspects of life that we take for granted.  The most common senses we use when surfing the internet are hearing, sight and touch.  These senses are important to our daily Internet access.  It is very important that a user has the ability to perceive the web content.  Not only is the ability to perceive web content important, but inputting the information into our brains is very important!

There are many kinds of audio interactions we use when surfing the Internet.  Some examples of audio interactions are: hearing music, listening to web radio, and watching videos. If you operate a web site, to make your audio information available to individuals who cannot hear, provide captioned audio.  Below is an example of a video with closed captions that was posted on http://www.dor.ca.gov/rd_life.wmv.

Web sites provide enormous information with content that consists of graphics, multimedia, and text.  Individuals who can see can read text, view images, understand the web page layouts, and understand the meaning of colors in certain cultural perspective (for example,– red and green street lights).  To make your web content available to individuals who are blind or have low vision, prior to your web design, structure your content (i.e. headings, subheadings, lists, etc.).  They rely on screen readers and keyboards to navigate through a web site.

Imagine an individual who is deaf and blind.  How would this individual access information?  There are ways a person who is deafblind can access information.  1) Through sign language where individuals use their hands to feel one another’s body movements, gestures and sign language; OR 2) A Braille device – a text can be converted to Braille.

A standard keyboard and mouse is often used to access web content, but not everyone can use them. Some individuals use adaptive or alternative devices depending on their disability (for example, a mouth stick to manipulate a keyboard). Blind users depend on a keyboard and screen reader to navigate web content.

To ensure your web site is usable to people of all abilities, you should make sure the web content's language is as easy to understand as possible. 

Technology changes and can be very expensive as well as time consuming.  There are different operating systems and different versions of browsers. People who use adaptive devices or alternative devices such as screen readers or screen magnifiers to navigate web content do not always update their devices or software to keep up with other changes in computer technology. Ensure your web site is robust through all operating systems and different versions of browsers by testing it on multiple web browsers and operating systems.

What is your experience with web accessibility? Have you been unable to navigate a web site due to accessibility barriers? Do you host a web site and find web accessibility implementation challenging? Have you had a positive experience? Share your story in the comments section below.