DEDICATED TO IMPROVING THE LIVES OF BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE

Resources for partners August 14,2020

Blindness and Disability on Screen

Excerpts from films featuring actors with disabilities are featured in an Independent Lens blog titled “The Evolution of Disability in Film: After the Accolades the Work Continues”. From an 1897 film featuring a paraplegic beggar who wears a sign proclaiming he is blind but who runs away then the police arrive (recaptured in the recent film Trading Places), to a depiction of people using tactile sign on a plane ride in Werner Herzog’s Land of Silence and Darkness (1971) to modern documentaries, this cross-disability blog is worth a read.

In February, Independent Lens showed a seven-part mini-doc series about four young blind people looking to date and find a serious relationship. In episode three, Simon, who says he has never held a girl’s hand, goes with friends to a local bar to learn how to meet people. Watch now.

Tech Talk

Meeting Platforms – Chapter 2

Last week we reviewed Zoom and Google Meet. This week we introduce a new, open source platform, Jitsi, and describe how to start meetings on all three.

Jitsi (Bulgarian for wires) is a free open source meeting platform that boasts both convenience and a number of security features. Review the security and privacy features offered by Jitsi on the official website. Jitsi Meet offers keyboard shortcuts when running in the browser; just press Shift + / (typing a question mark) to open a list of shortcuts. There is a phone number to join a meeting and mobile apps with limited accessibility. No account necessary. Interestingly, the web interface interacts with JAWS very differently than it does with the open source screen reader NVDA, but the experience over the phone is simple and consistent. See to learn more about the platform.

Setting up and attending meetings:

Jitsi Meet – To start a meeting, simply visit, enter your meeting name, and hit Enter. Always secure your meetings with strong passwords and distribute those passwords only to the intended guests. Jitsi Meet requires neither an account nor personal information, and all meetings are equipped can be joined by phone. Review the meeting information in order to distribute the link and number for your meeting. Meetings can be started and joined in the same way via the mobile apps and desktop client.

Zoom

It is very simple to set up a meeting or join a meeting with either desktop/laptop or mobile devices. Simply click on start a meeting or schedule a meeting to create a Zoom event. Zoom is accessible with JAWS, iOS/Voiceover and NVDA although it is a bit troublesome to navigate in the chat field with NVDA. Calling in to a Zoom meeting can be difficult as it can time out as you are typing on the keypad; resolve this problem by offering one-tap mobile to attendees.

Google Meet

In order to set up a meeting with Google Meet, you’ll need a Google account. Accounts, however, are not needed for attendance. To get started, visit here. after logging in and select “Join or Start a Meeting.” In the text field that appears, enter the name you would like to give your meeting and hit Enter. Once you’ve entered your meeting, you have the option to add participants via email invitations, but you can also distribute the meeting information yourself by copying it from the “Details” dialogue box. Note that the ability to have participants join by phone is only available in meetings organized via a paid G Suite account.

More meeting platform analysis

In partnership with the Business Disability Forum, The Big Hack’s page on Best Resources for Videoconferencing and Accessibility reviews advantages and disadvantages of a long list of meeting platforms. The focus of the page from these two organizations in the UK is live captioning for the deaf, but each review addresses screen readers and other access issues as well. Blackboard, Google Hangouts, Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Skype for business and Zoom are all there plus Blue Jeans, that we’ll explore.

New accessibility tools from Google on Android

Last week we discussed Android’s new braille keyboard. Now Android has released the Action Blocks App, which allows users to assign voice commands to custom icons on their homescreen. “Android Action Blocks take any tasks that Google Assistant can carry out, chosen from a list or entered by hand, and brings them together into a single button on the device’s home screen.” The feature is tailored to help those with speech or cognitive impairments take advantage of Android’s voice assistant, but it can simplify and speed up tasks for any voice assistant user. Learn more about Action Blocks and other Android accessibility updates at Cool Blind Tech.

Lookout

Google’s Android app that helps visually impaired users identify their surroundings, announced some new features…, including the ability to read food labels”, writes Chris Albrecht on The Spoon. Google’s corporate blog, The Keyword, says: “With Food Label, you can quickly identify packaged foods by pointing your phone’s camera at the label. Lookout will guide you to position the food product so that it can be properly identified through its packaging or barcode.

Fast and Easy Tutorials to Make Digital Media Accessible

Rooted in Rights has “a playlist of simple, straight-forward guides for creating accessible social media content, specifically related to videos and images”. Brief videos (about two minutes long) cover how to create Transcripts, Alt-Text, Audio Descriptions and Captions.

TRANSITION TO COLLEGE

Accessible Map Library

A recent webinar from Perkins Access reviewed their new online library of accessible maps for the visually impaired and blind. A collaboration with SAS, the library provides a wide variety of maps of university and college campuses,regional geography, political boundaries, and much more. The library, which accepts map contributions from those interested in adding to its content, will provide resources for mainstream education and expand the capabilities of orientation and mobility instructors and their students. This virtual resource can help those who require orientation and mobility training even when in-person services are not available. Access the library from the Perkins eLearning Paths to Technology website and listen to the recorded webinar.

Email your professor – don’t wait! It’s easy with these samples.

Entering college freshmen are receiving their Fall schedules. These 10 sample emails from Paths to Technology: Perkins eLearning are great. Says Ahmat If you are going to be in college for the first time, sending an email early and requesting course materials will make your college transition a whole lot easier. By sending an email in advance, you are making things easier for the professor and for you. The key is making your emails as specific as possible. Look at these samples from the Perkins blog “Ten Form Emails to Send to Your Professors: How to Unapologetically Ask Your Professors for Help Over Email and Get What You Want here. One word of advice: Get your assignments done on time. Do not make a habit of requesting an extension on an assignment the day before it is due. Worthy in the 60’s, worthy now, too.

STEM in the Lab – Accessible Science Education Leads to Science Careers

Statistics indicate that less than 5% of postsecondary students with disabilities in the U.S. pursue the natural sciences, and it is widely recognized that barriers to access are a significant contributor. The good news is, there are number of tools and resources to help aspiring scientists with disabilities through their STEM education and beyond.

Independence Science, at Purdue University’s Research Park, “seeks to promote the full integration of blind or low vision students, who, from here on will be referred to as ‘blind students’ into hands-on science laboratory learning experiences. Traditionally, blind students are paired with a sighted counterpart to serve as their eyes in the laboratory. Although this approach can be effective at completing laboratory course requirements, it does not instill in the mind of the blind student that they can perform these tasks independently.” Dr. Peter Walters of the Independence Science team explained that in addition to creating accessible science products, Independence Science works with university accessibility offices in order to help provide appropriate and individualized assistive technology and accommodations for students pursuing STEM, as well as accessibility training for university personnel. Independence Science, in a collaborative effort with the prestigious American Chemical Society, has recently released a periodic table fully accessible to users of screen readers which has now been adopted as the standard for science competitions through Science Olympiad and at the professional level. Independence Science looks forward to expanding its partnerships and reach as it celebrates the addition of Michael Hingson, Independence Science’s newest member, to its team of skilled science consultants.

The Talking LabQuest from Independence Science functions as a versatile measurement tool accessible to those who are visually impaired or blind. The device includes a built-in screen reader that announces both the measurements taken by external sensors and the controls and menus of the device itself. In addition to recording measurements, the device organizes data into accessible tables for analysis and review. An informational video on the Talking LabQuest is available from Vernier.

The American Association of Blind Teachers provides an excellent list of resources to help blind and visually impaired students pursuing STEM, their professors and teachers. The list includes not only tools, techniques, and software, but it also provides information on mentorship and even such technical standards as MathML that could serve to drastically improve the accessibility of online STEM content. One item on the list is a free and open-source computer software by the name of Maxima that allows its users to manipulate complex mathematical equations and plot functions and data in both two and three dimensions. Another item is a device known as the Submersible Audible Light Sensor, or SALS, a machine that consists of a light sensor that can be submersed in liquids during chemical reactions and a speaker that emits different pitches that correspond to the light levels detected by the sensor. SALS can enable blind and visually impaired chemists to observe visual changes in reactions in real time.

Save the Date

The annual Inclusion in Science Learning A New Direction (ISLAND) conference is a convention for the discussion of the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in STEM. The conference aims to provide both a platform for the exchange of “methodological and technological innovations” to promote inclusivity and equity in STEM and to allow “professionals, students, researchers, access technology developers, parents, and service providers to meet and network with one another for this purpose.” This year, the eleventh annual ISLAND conference will be hosted virtually by Princeton University on Saturday, September 12, 2020 via Zoom. Free to registrants. Visit here to learn more.

Employment

Is all the information in the job listing accessible? Is that video about the benefits of working at your company captioned? Do images advertising the job on Facebook or Instagram contain descriptivealternative text (alt text) so blind people find out what they show, including any text hiding inside? Using alt text to describe images on your website, by the way, is also good for search engine optimisation. Accessibility is essential for some, useful for all.

So wrote Aine Kelly-Costello in her blog “Accessible Online Job Recruitment Must Be a Priority, Now and Always” at Rooted in Rights. In the blog, Kelly-Costello writes about barriers to employment that haven’t been resolved in 25 years – online psychometric tests and application forms in particular. With so many companies initiating remote work possibilities, she says, “employers have the opportunity to harness the innovating spirits of our times to attract disabled talent by making their recruitment processes accessible and inclusive.” Candidates aren’t likely to bring up discrimination when they’re applying for jobs. “When you’re applying for a job, the last thing you want to do is rock the boat,” she quotes Robyn Powell, an attorney. The answer, according to the writer and her sources, is to “bake” accessibility in.

We just learned that AIRA offers a free 30-minute session to those seeking employment. Need a quick resume review or other job search assistance? Need help with productivity at your job? Find out more here.

Just for Fun

A Blind Legend, developed by Dowino, is a great accessible game. With its great 3d sound effects, but no videographics, you still feel like you are physically in the game. You are a blind knight being guided by your daughter Louise. Your task is to battle your way through the king’s men and save your wife from the king. Ahmat said he couldn’t finish the game, but it is challenging and fun. Available on the Appstore and on the Mac OS. Free but in app purchases apply. Headphones required. Work on it, Ahmat!

Search Google for “audio narration” and you’ll get a long list of related items including how to courses for aspiring narrators and lists of the worst narrators. One of the interesting entries is Audible’s Narrator Hall Of Fame, featuring 20 narrators known for their “wide, varied, and vibrant body of work; exceptional listener reviews; and a commitment to the craft and dedication to spreading awareness of audio performance.” Some recognizable names here, and further reading on the narrator topic will find lists of the worst narrators, too.