Upcoming Learning Opportunities
The month of August is often called the “dog days of summer.” This August many of these days can be filled with learning and personal growth. Here are some opportunities:
Virtual Business Tech Bootcamp Test-Drive Program Coming in August
Technology skills are essential to securing a job and to career success. Two upcoming “Bootcamps” from Perkins School for the Blind will provide the tools to help job seekers “become more proficient in the technologies most commonly used in business settings: Google Suite and Microsoft Suite." These virtual camps will cover the basics of how to use the technology as well as how to apply skills acquired to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the work place. Google Suite camp runs from August 9 – 13; Microsoft Suite camp goes from August 16-20. Each week-long session is free of charge for qualified candidates, though spots are limited. Learn more or apply for Career Launch Virtual Business Tech Bootcamp Test-Drive Program.
Webinars for Professionals: Mantis Q40, Mobility Techniques, Accessible Files and More
APH (American Printing House for the Blind) is offering a number of sessions for professionals in the coming weeks through its Access Academy, including:
August 4, 2021, 12:00 – 1:00 pm EDT: “Getting Started with Mantis: Connecting to iOS & Chrome” – This workshop is for those who have the Mantis Q40 and want to know how to connect it to other devices, using VoiceOver (iOS/Apple) or ChromeVox (Chrome OS). The Mantis Q40 includes a Qwerty keyboard and refreshable braille display and can be connected to different devices. More information about the device, which can be purchased for $2,495, is available through APH at Mantis Q40. More information about the workshop on the Mantis Q40 and a registration link can be found here.
August 5, 2021, 12:00 – 1:30 pm EDT: “Step-by-Step: An Interactive Guide to Mobility Techniques” — Digital instruction for current and future O&M specialists is featured in this new APH offering. The webinar explores what is provided through this new interactive computer curriculum. Register for the webinar "Step-by-Step: An Interactive to Mobility Techniques" here.
August 10, 2021, 4:00 – 5:30 pm EDT: “Flipped Classroom – Building Accessible Word documents and PowerPoints” – You can register for the webinar and watch two courses, “Building Accessible PowerPoints” and “Building Accessible Word Documents” in the APH Hive (www.aphhive.org) and then join the meeting to work on assignments as a group. Register for the APH Flipped Classroom--Building Accessible Word documents and PowerPoints.
More from the ACB Convention…
By Ahmat Djouma, RDPFS Intern
The recent convention of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) featured a roundtable related to the accessibility offerings of video streaming services currently available, including Netflix, Hulu, HBOMax, Apple TV Plus, Comcast, Amazon, Disney Plus and the very recent Paramount Plus. Amazon, for example, is using text-to-speech rather than human narration in some of the movies in their repertoire to increase the availability of audio description. Some of the streaming services feature a great deal of audio description; with others, you may encounter limited accessibility. Often the streaming services provide information and links related to accessibility on their websites. And most of them offer free trials with no-cost cancellation if you choose not to continue. Following are links to additional information about accessibility options for a few of the streaming services discussed:
- Netflix accessibility;
- for Amazon: Accessibility Features on Prime Video;
- for Accessibility Features on Hulu;
- for Apple TV's Accessibility Features.
Extensive information about HBOMax and accessibility is available on the ACB website announcement regarding the rollout of HBO Max audio described content. ACB also has general information on audio description.
About the Accessible Pharmacy: New Podcast
A new podcast from Hadley covers the Accessible Pharmacy, which launched in 2020. The service provides accessible packaging and labeling as well as customer support to consumers – all free of charge and designed specifically for individuals with vision impairment. Check out the Accessible Pharmacy podcast.
MathML Encodes Information to Display Math Content on the Internet
By Nikhil Vohra, RDPFS Intern and Technology Desk Editor
A common challenge math students who are blind and visually impaired face is accessing digital math content, particularly in deciphering more complex expressions and equations. Unfortunately, a common practice for rendering math online is simply to paste a graphic or screenshot of an equation into a web page, providing an exclusively visual representation. Although alt text can be added to such images to verbalize equations, it is often overlooked. In addition, alt text must be worded precisely to represent the complex encoding of mathematical information. Any verbal translation of math, for instance, must use additional markers, such as “Begin Fraction” and “End Fraction,” to communicate expressions accurately. In order to address these and other challenges, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) in 1998. The markup language, similar to the more widely known HTML, lets browsers encode the information needed to display and communicate math content on the web. This facilitates interaction between screen readers and math online. Of the most popular browsers, Mozilla Firefox is the best suited for MathML content, as it provides full support for the language (no browser plugins needed). Both JAWS and NVDA (with the free Access8Math add-on) on Windows provide the ability to read math content formatted in MathML online or in XML documents. You can find a sample of math content written in MathML on the Freedom Scientific support site. To learn more about MathML and its significance to accessibility, read the informational article on the University of Washington’s DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) website.
Using JAWS with Mathematical Functions in Microsoft Word
By Ahmat Djouma, RDPFS Intern
When using JAWS to do math, I open MS word and use my braille display with it. Make sure you change the braille setting on your computer to US English for both input and output. Once that is done, open up a blank open Word document, press insert plus space bar and then press shift together with the equal sign. This will open up math editor for you to input your equation. Once the equation is written, press enter to display it. This works with latest version of JAWS. While JAWS allows you to perform some basic mathematical functions, there are still some limitations, particularly in interpreting details such as fractions.
Updates on Dictation: New Features Increase Privacy and Access
By Nikhil Vohra, Technology Desk Editor
Dictation, a feature used by many individuals who are blind and visually impaired, can save both time and effort on the go. Before iOS 14, however, dictation was performed on the cloud, which means that speech input was processed on external servers in order to generate textual output. Not only did this require an internet connection to process speech, but it also meant that voice data were transmitted to external servers each time the dictation feature was used. On-device dictation processing, introduced in iOS 14, enables users to use this handy feature without an internet connection. Moreover, consent to the transmission of voice data to external cloud servers is no longer needed to allow for use of dictation, representing a move toward greater user privacy. One limitation of this change: dictation can only process up to one minute of speech at a time. Apple seeks to rectify this issue in its next major update, iOS 15, by removing a time limit altogether. Thus, iOS 15 promises to offer a private way to use dictation, regardless of connectivity or the length of voice input. For notes on how to use dictation, as well as a number of tips and tricks, visit Apple’s support site. You can learn more about the development from the Perkins eLearning website
Accessible Communications Training from NYC Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities
On Wednesday, July 28, RDPFS intern Ahmat Djouma participated virtually in a training provided by New York City’s Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD). The training aimed to enlighten professionals working with various electronic media about how to communicate with the disability community. Among the features discussed: how to make content accessible by adding headings and alt-text to images. Ahmat also reports that they provided great tips, such as the importance of being descriptive in creating hyperlink labels rather than using one-word labels like “here.” MOPD has a wealth of resources on how to create accessible social media content, documents and PowerPoint slides. Learn more about how to make documents accessible at MOPD's website.
Unlikely Pandemic-Driven Accessibility Improvements -- and Their Quiet Disappearance
by Nikhil Vohra, Technology Desk Editor
As many venues open up and events transition from virtual to physical, it’s hard to imagine that we could be losing something valuable from the months of quarantine that kept us isolated from one another and separated from much of the world around us. But, as those living with disabilities have realized, the pandemic, although posing its own accessibility issues, also allowed for some improvements. For example, virtual art events require no commute and offer built-in narrated descriptions in some cases. Online concerts, plays, and exhibits reached new audiences in a virtual format. This provided the perfect accommodation for many living with chronic conditions or physical disabilities. As Brijana Prooker writes in The Observer, “The pandemic opened up my world. […] I saw more live events in the past year than I did in the ten years prior.” But while most are rejoicing at the thought of ending the year-and-a-half-long virtual chapter of their lives, she fears that her world might be closing as many of those events forego the online format with no plans to return: “I feel like I’m being disinvited from the party. I’m disabled from an autoimmune disease, and attending live events is painful and dangerous. If I go, I risk weeks of recovery.” Stories like Brijana’s highlight a perspective that many don’t hear, and it’s easy to miss those points of view in society’s eager anticipation for a return to normalcy—but they suggest that hybrid models can be considered as we recover from the pandemic as a viable way to go forward. Luckily, a number of venues, including Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Metropolitan Opera, plan to adopt hybrid models of reopening, and they offer hope that other venues and events might follow suit. Read Brijana’s piece on the quiet disappearance of pandemic accessibility in The Observer.
U.S. Paralympians to Receive Bonuses Equal to Olympians for the First Time
One positive development emerged in this year’s Paralympic planning: bonuses to athletes with disabilities competing this year will now be equal to those received by Olympians. Increased payouts for all athletes – at the Olympics and Paralympics – were approved by the board of directors for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). The change is retroactive to the 2018 Winter Paralympics, when “U.S. Paralympians won 36 medals in South Korea and garnered more than $1.2 million in bonuses,” according to the 2018 USOPC report. While these increases benefit those who win medals, participating in the games themselves can be unaffordable, since unlike some nations, the U.S. government does not sponsor athletes financially. Many athletes need to secure external funding to participate. Read the coverage about the increased bonuses and other issues related to the Paralympics in The Mighty. Read about what this change means to several women competing in this year’s events in The Lily.
“Blindness doesn’t deter Paralympian Brown”
David Brown lost his left eye at the age of three and vision in his right eye began to diminish when he was six years old. He lost his vision completely by the time he was 13. “Speed, however, was a commodity Brown had in excess, and it was only getting more impressive with age.” He attended Missouri School for the Blind, where he learned to hold a wire in his left hand, “pump with the right and let the line lead him down the track.” With that guidance, he could sprint without sight and is now recognized as the fastest totally blind sprinter in the world. Brown will compete in the 100 meters event during the Paralympics in Tokyo in August. In 2016, he won the gold medal for the 100 in Brazil. Read more about this remarkable Paralympian athlete in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Accessible Recreation: Some Offerings in Connecticut and Massachusetts
For those living or traveling to these New England states, a number of accessible sites offer opportunities accessible to individuals with vision impairments as well as other disabilities.
In Connecticut: From natural settings to cultural sites, Connecticut offers many “sensory-friendly” events and venues. At the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, for example, visitors can experience tactile displays and listening devices. The Mashantucket Pequot Museum’s system for visitors who are visually impaired includes an audio guide, interpretation and hands-on exploration. The Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, offers guests audio description, touch tours and Braille and large print programs. At Ski Sundown in New Hartford adaptive ski lessons are available for skiers who are visually impaired. Read more about these and other accessible sites on the Visit Connecticut – Office of Connecticut website:
Accessible Connecticut -- Welcoming to All Abilities
In Massachusetts: Accessible opportunities at museums, for sports and other tourism and recreational activities events can be found through DisabilityInfo.org: Accessible Massachusetts. Listings and links for many beaches, parks, hiking trails and fishing are a few of the recreational resources included on this site. Cultural venues can be found as well, including, for example, the Perkins Museum, where you can take a “multi-sensory journey through the history of deafblind education over the past 200 years,” or the Salem Maritime National History Site, which offers audio tours. Learn more about these and other sites of interest through https://www.visitma.com/travel-info/accessible-travel/.