Closing out the ADA’s 30th Birthday
On July 30, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Story Circle hosted Beyond ADA 30 — Impacts, Intersections & Reflecting Forward. This program is a conversation with disability advocates Anil Lewis (director, Jernigan Institute, National Federation of the Blind), Beth Ziebarth (director, Access Smithsonian), and LeDerick Horne (poet and activist) as they reflect on the current landscape of the disability community and the road ahead in our post-pandemic world. “How do the impacts of our dual pandemics intersect with the disability community, and influence the way we look to the future? As we begin to design a new world that will re-imagine everything from architecture, infrastructure, and transportation, to education, employment, and cultural arts experiences, how do we do so in a way that ensures that everyone has equal access and is meaningfully included?” The program, including closed captioning, is available on the Festival website
Join Our Partners’ Programs From Anywhere Our Space Our Place
Following its successful Audio Editing Class, Our Space Our Place is offering an “opportunity to laugh, to learn, to meet others” at a four-day Theater Camp which runs for two afternoon hours a day from August 4 through August 7. Young people from 10-21 will spend time “stretching your imagination, interacting with others and increasing your speaking and communications skills” as they are led by professional actors. Find full information in the Announcements and Events page For cost email [email protected] or phone: (617) 459-4084.
On July 23-24 and 30-31
Visions VCB in New York City brought many of its programs online and made them available via Zoom or phone to anyone over the age of 18 who has a visual impairment. Visions invited people to “learn new skills in a collaborative environment, meet new people sharing similar experiences, and grow our amazing community” through activities like interactive games, discussion groups, health and wellness activities and entertainment. Both afternoon and evening sessions were offered. Assistive technology instructors helped with installing the Zoom app. We hope to see more sessions soon. See announcement here.
Indoor Games For All
There are not too many games that both sighted and blind people can play together. Dice World is a suite of accessible role playing dice games on iOS that promises a “level playing field” for everyone. The suite consists of six games, Yatzy, Farkle, Pig, Balut, 3’s, and 1-4-24. There are great tutorials to teach you how to play them. Offline, practice with computer characters like Donald Trump or Arnold Schwarzenegger, then graduate to online play and challenge real players. Reviewers said things like: “I recommend this game to anybody who is looking for a new fun way to spend some time with their phone and people that they cannot talk to face-to-face,” and “I cannot go a day without playing Dice World at least once.” Get it from the AppStore. Had enough Dice Games? Ahmat, an enthusiastic gamer, says hundreds more accessible games are available on AppleVis
Although fewer accessible games are available for PC, an Ahmat favorite is the nonprofit RSGames, built specifically for screen reader users; no text is displayed on screen. RSGames, which began back in 2009, is a client/server to download to your Mac or Windows computer – or to your iPhone or iPad. Sighted players can enjoy the games from their web browser. RS’s list of games includes some old standards like Bingo, War, Go Fish and Monopoly. In addition, you can voice chat and/or text chat with other players. Get RSGames on your PC or Mac here.
Conversations on college transition
Some lively discussions about managing the transition to college successfully are happening around our virtual editorial table. Ahmat is entering his last year of undergraduate work, and Nikhil is headed off to his freshman year. Both needed accommodations in high school. Here’s what they advise.
#1. Always think ahead. Know what you want and and advocate for what you need. Even before enrolling, make contact with your student accessibility services office, and once you’ve chosen your college, stay in contact. Tell them about your planned major and in what format you’ll need your class materials. The office may not have a lot of experience with students who are visually impaired and they often make the assumption that all students who are visually impaired will require the same accommodations, so move right ahead and request what works for you. Hopefully it won’t be necessary, but Ahmat shared a troubling experience and how he resolved it. “Last year I could not find an accessible textbook and the office was not willing to work with me to make it accessible.” Ahmat had to obtain legal assistance, and got free help through Disability Rights New York, which can provide an advocate or an attorney. The link is here.
#2. Communication is key. Once you have a class schedule, said Ahmat, “Send an introduction letter to your professors in advance to request the course materials (syllabus and the textbook) they will be using” then work with student accessibility services to get the material to your preferred format. Let the professor know how you access print and video. Some may react poorly – “I have a whole class to teach,” some may refer you to disability services, and some may get right on board like Nikhil’s high school Spanish teacher who sat next to him whenever she was showing a movie and described the film.
#3. Come with a solution. Nikhil says the best way to overcome classroom challenges is to have a solution in mind when you approach a professor or disabled student services. You know what hurdles you’re facing in class. You probably can think of some resources to get you over those hurdles. Share them with your professors and administrators and make it easier for them to help. They’ll appreciate it.
#4. Get organized. Organization is key to maintaining order in your new college setting. For students who write braille, braille labels can help identify your own possessions and can be used to label classroom materials and lab equipment. Labeling, whether Braille, raised letters or large print, makes hands-on activities easy and makes it safer to complete science and math lab activities. Braille labels are available from numerous vendors in two main varieties: full-sheet adhesives that can be cut to size and strip adhesives that can be embossed and cut with a dispenser-like device.
#5. Get your accessible texts. There are lots of choices here. Bookshare is an accessible online library with more than 800,000 textbooks and novels for people who can’t access regular print. Bookshare uses high quality electronic voices for narration. If your book is not on Bookshare’s list, just let them know what book you need, give them enough lead time, and they’ll get the book to you in time for class or give you a raw scan for starters. Student memberships are free so sign up here.
Have an iOS device? Use the Voice Dream reader to access Bookshare books. There is also voice dream reader.
If you do better with human voices, you may opt for BARD from the National Library Services for the Blind and Print Disabled. BARD’s free books are all high quality human narrated voices. Get some magazines, many fiction books, and non-fiction as well. Although it does not have textbooks, you’re likely to find everything else on BARD.
#6. Plan to live on campus? Make arrangements early. Think about requesting a single room if you’re going to need extra space for peripherals like a large monitor. Many colleges have only a few single rooms, so put your request in as far in advance as possible. When thinking about your dorm location, ask yourself these questions. How far from the campus do you want to be and how far from the cafeteria should your dorm be? Navigating the cafeteria can be especially difficult, Ahmat warns. “Cafeterias are open large spaces with many stations. Work with your student disability services office to make sure that you can easily access the cafeteria.”
THE TECH CORNER
A Primer on Resolving Internet Connectivity Issues
Over the past months, we’ve been hearing that some people continue to be unable to attend virtual classes or groups due to issues with Internet connectivity. Connectivity can be achieved via physical ethernet connection, through Wi-Fi, or over the cellular network, and there are luckily a number of options to get connected. Led by Nikhil, we’ve had some discussions and done some research into possible solutions, which we’re sharing here. 1) You may know this already, but Android and iOS phones have the potential to serve as miniature Wi-Fi routers or to provide Internet connectivity via a wire tether. To use the phones to do so, you may need to pay extra, as some cellular carriers limit or charge more for the sharing of mobile connections. 2) An alternative is to purchase a portable Wi-Fi device, known informally as a Wi-Fi brick for its shape. The devices represent a one-time investment and can operate on a contract or month-to-month plan, but they need not come from your primary mobile carrier. Plans start as low as $10 per month, and prices rise as you increase the amount of high-speed data provided. These Wi-Fi bricks are portable and operate on the cellular network, and they can provide connectivity to multiple devices simultaneously. 3) A third option is to use public Wi-Fi hotspots. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Xfinity/Comcast has opened its public hotspots to everyone for the rest of the year: “To continue to help keep people connected as the country prepares to reopen, we are extending free access to the 1.5 million public Xfinity WiFi hotspots to anyone who needs them, including non-customers, through the end of 2020. Locate the hotspots and learn more here. Check other providers in your area for similar offerings. Have questions? Contact [email protected]
LeakyPick: Snitching on the Snoops
Are you one of the many users of voice assistants like Alexa or Siri? Voice assistants have the ability to bring greater convenience into our lives, playing music, searching the web, making phone calls, scheduling meetings, and sending text messages at our command, but have you ever worried that your voice assistant listens to your private conversations and then sends what it hears over the Internet to remote corporate servers? This article from Wired explains that those devices must constantly listen to hear an activation word or phrase like “OK, Google.” It’s true that voice assistants are often falsely activated. So far it has been found that over 1,000 words and phrases falsely activate some of the most common smart speakers. For instance, the words “a letter” triggered Amazon Alexa, and “OK, cool” triggered Google Assistant. Luckily, a group of researchers has recently developed a device whose job it is to detect when voice assistants, smart speakers, and other audio-capturing devices are listening and transmitting data over the Internet. The device, called LeakyPick, is currently a prototype, but boasts a 94% accuracy rate. In the near future, the researchers hope to make it possible for people to once again have private conversations in the digital age. This article from Cool Blind Tech summarizes the research methodology and the technical details of the device.
Free Screen Readers
Both Apple (VoiceOver) and Android (Talk Back) phones have built in screen readers that are robust and rather easy to learn. Apple devices like watches, TV, iOS devices and the Mac operating system now come with VoiceOver, which makes apple products accessible right out of the box.
But for desktops, screen readers may be too costly for many. NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) is a free open source screen reader for Windows. Developed by the Australian non-profit organization NV Access, NVDA is reliable, fully featured, and well supported because of its team of programmers, who “believe that every Blind+Vision impaired person deserves the right to freely and easily access a computer!” That the project is open source means that the successful contributions of its volunteer developers, translators and experts are added to the official code of the program. At last count, those volunteer translators have made NVDA accessible to speakers of more than 110 languages. Visit here to download the software and learn more about the non-profit behind it.
NV Access has partnered with Microsoft to create seamless compatibility with the Microsoft Office Suite, and training videos provide not only an intro to NVDA but to the Windows desktop operating system as a whole. How difficult is it to learn to use NVDA efficiently? Difficulty is subjective, but NVDA provides free documentation, and has also partnered with the American Foundation for the Blind to create a sequence of training materials for first-time users
Nikhil may be NVDA’s biggest fan. He wrote: “NVDA’s default speech synthesizer is now the high-quality Microsoft OneCore synthesizer, and it has added a number of very useful features in recent updates. NVDA supports touchscreen gestures, Windows 10 optical character recognition (OCR), a long list of braille displays, and the Microsoft Office Suite. Moreover, NVDA can be customized in terms of keyboard commands and voice settings, and it can even be customized to interact differently with individual software applications, but it can also be used simply (i.e., without advanced configuration and high technical proficiency).”
There is yet another option, wrote Ahmat, Windows Narrator. Developed by Microsoft, it is built into the Windows 10 operating system and is considered to be a full screen reader. No downloading required. Ahmat hasn’t yet tried it, but encourages all to experiment and learn more. c link here
Ending with a smile
At the irreverent website Nonprofit AF, you’ll find many lists. One of them imagines what grant proposals would look like if grant seekers were brutally honest. Number one of the twelve items on the list starts this way: Q.? What is innovative about your program design? A: “Our program is entirely innovative. The design is unproven; the approach is untested; the outcomes are unknown….