Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

ACB Convention Highlights

RDPFS interns Nikhil Vohra and Ahmat Djouma have been participating in this week’s American Council of the Blind (ACB) convention. Here they share some of the highlights.

From Nikhil Vohra:

Windows 11 Enhanced Accessibility Features: A topic that has been in the news recently is the Windows 11 update scheduled for later this year. The ACB Convention covered the implications for accessibility. Changes coming to the desktop include a Start button at the center of the taskbar and a new taskbar widget that can be accessed via the keyboard shortcut Windows + W. In addition, the settings app will be redesigned with related controls grouped together in expandable boxes to improve navigability and organization. Moreover, cloud-based apps should work out-of-the-box with screen readers, and some improvements are promised for Windows Narrator’s responsiveness. In terms of sound, both light and dark modes will have distinct sounds. Regardless which theme you choose, when you reboot the computer you will hear the Windows startup sound to signal that the computer is ready to use. One of the most significant updates is related to speech recognition. Microsoft announced that speech recognition will be much improved in Windows 11 and that smart punctuation will be used to punctuate text automatically as one speaks. Although Windows 11 promises to be a major upgrade, Microsoft affirms that all assistive technology compatible with Windows 10 will work with Windows 11. If you have any ideas or feedback, submit them through the Feedback Hub built into Windows. Just press Windows + F to get started.

Microsoft Soundscape, a free navigation app for mobile devices, uses GPS navigation and a system of maps. The app employs sounds and speech to direct the user to his or her destination. Soundscape is not a standard GPS app—its sounds are unique. Specifically, the app will take advantage of headphone technology (if you’re wearing headphones) to produce an audible tone indicating where your destination is. So in addition to the user-centered instructions like “Turn left in 100 feet,” you will also hear the location of your destination while you are en route. As you walk, Soundscape will announce the names of streets and even stores if that information is available. These announcements will come through your left or right ear as appropriate. You also can set your own sound beacons and speech labels for locations you choose. Therefore, if Soundscape lacks information for your area, you can add that information to your phone to help you navigate more independently in the future. The technology—3D sound mapping—represents an exciting new tool for people who are blind and visually impaired as well as for orientation and mobility specialists. Download the app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Headphones are highly recommended, but do not use noise-canceling headphones, as ambient sounds are important for safe navigation. If you have any questions or feedback, email [email protected].

Planting the SEED for Self-Defense: Representatives from Strive4You at the Convention addressed issues related to self-defense and safety. They discussed their Safety Education Empowering Defense (SEED) program, aimed at teaching the skills needed for de-escalation and self-defense in potentially threatening situations. Emphasizing balance, SEED teaches individuals to be aware of their surroundings and to remain calm. It also prepares them to defend themselves if necessary. The program is offered in three formats: hands-on training, hybrid instruction, and fully remote lessons. While the fully online course does not offer hands-on instruction, it teaches valuable skills to decrease the likelihood of ending up in a dangerous situation and how to be alert while remaining calm. Learning the physical aspects of self-defense, however, requires in-person instruction. All techniques taught are adaptable for those with physical or multiple disabilities. Learn more about the program, including fees, at SEED’s official webpage or call 1-866-40-STRIVE Ext: 740.

From Ahmat Djouma:

One of the ACB Convention sessions featured a discussion with representatives of Alaska Airlines and the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) about the recent changes to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). In December of 2020, the DOT proposed a rule about service animals and implemented it this year. The new rule, for example, specifies that an emotional support animal is no longer considered a service animal. You can read about the changes to the ACAA at the website of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Under the new rule an individual with a service animal must complete a form prior to travel. Each airline may have a different process for reviewing the forms and DOT recommend checking with the airline before traveling. In addition, organizations like Open Doors are partnering with different airlines to streamline the process so one does not have to fill out a form each time they travel. Click on SATS (Service Animal Travel Solution) to read more about this. Currently Alaska Airlines is the only participating member, but they plan for expansion. Read the full text of the final rule.

Bookshare also provided updates on their work, including an announcement that an Alexa Skill for the Amazon Echo smart speaker will be released next year. An Alexa Skill can be added to a device such as Amazon’s Echo to perform specific tasks. In the case of Bookshare, you would use your Echo device to be able to read the books that you are accessing just by using voice commands. Read more about Bookshare’s plans for an Alexa Skill here.