Thursday, February 26, 2009

Computer Fairy God Mother

Lorraine Kerwood believed she had mental disabilities growing up, and did not feel safe or secure interacting with others. When she started working with computers, she realized they had no judgments. It inspired her to start "Next Step Recycling." She now refurbishes and recycles old computers and gives them to disadvantaged communities and people with purported "disabilities." Next Step also employs, and offers job training to, people with social or learning disabilities. - Voxant News Room

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Federal Court Rules No Link Between Autism and Vaccines

"A special federal court ruled yesterday that vaccines do not cause autism and that thousands of families with autistic children are not entitled to compensation, delivering a major blow to an international movement that has tried for years to link childhood immunizations with the devastating disorder. " -Washington Post

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

US Open Ball Girl who is Amputee

A n interesting piece about a girl who is a ball girl for the US Open and is an amputee. I anticipated a fluff piece spun as an "inspirational" story, but it steered pretty well away from that. They talked about her role as the first individual with a disability as a ball girl at the US Open, but also about her athletic career, and running both marathons and triathlons. As the interviewer mentions, calling her disabled is almost a misnomer, because with the right technology, she does not have much of an impairment.

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You can read more and support this writer at Associated Content

Sunday, February 22, 2009

*Inspiring* Disability News Story Template

I don't write about many, if any, "inspirational" disability stories because I think they're misleading, and frequently patronizing to the individual and people with disabilities in general. See the book No Pity : People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement for a great discussion of this topic. I've not been able to articulate my feelings quite as it as well as a writer called Frida.

She writes a blog called, what else, Frida Writes, and has a great satirical piece called "A Woman with X" It is a template for most of the inspirational stories of disability that we see in the news.

"Woman with ____x________ Has (opposite of x) (e.g., heart transplant/big heart; wheelchair/great strides; blindness/great vision)
For those who know her, Jane proves that living with _________ doesn’t have to mean giving up your dreams. While some people with ___________ might give up on life or become depressed, Jane keeps going, fueled by her passion for__________.
The ____-year old Jane, who has had __________ since she was _________, was told by doctors that she would never __________(again). She has been proving them wrong ever since...."
Read the rest at Frida Writes
Don't forget to check out the ADA Mad Libs she recommends as well.

Picture courtesy of Whistling in the Dark

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Dept. of Labor to Start Posting Statistics on Employment of Individuals with Disabilities

Federal Department of Labor is now posting information on employment of those with disabilities.

"In June 2008, questions were added to the Current Population Survey (CPS) to identify persons with a disability in the civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and older. The addition of these questions allowed BLS to begin releasing monthly labor force data from the CPS for persons with a disability." -

They've cut the table with employment data of those without disabilities, and that you can see the scary statistics of those with disabilities: 20% of those with disabilities are employed as compared to 65% of those without disabilities over the age of 16. When those over 65 are removed from the calculations, the stats are 32% to 75.7% for men and 29% to 66.9% for women (percent of those with a disability employed to those without a disability).

For those stat geeks the tables are available for down load and your own slicing and dicing.

ODEP Press Release

New monthly data series on the employment status of people with a disability (with tables)- BLS

Photo Courtesy of Jim Bowen

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Author's Guild in Kindle Controversy

close up view of Amazon Kindle An interesting argument has sprung up recently regarding text to speech capabilities in a e-book reader. The Kindle 2: Amazon's New Wireless Reading Device
is the e-book reader in questions. The Kindle takes a specifically formatted electronic file, and allows the reader to view the file on a small screen about the size of a paperback book. The Kindle also has the ability to convert the text to speech for the reader of the e-book, which is where the controversy has arisen.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal:

"They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."

A number of tech publications have taken up the issue. Tech Dirt wondered (tongue in cheek) about the legality of reading to our kids, in another article disputed the claim that this would be illegal as it it is not a public performance. The Electronic Freedom Frontier (EFF) disputed the definition of a derivative work, citing that there would have to be a modification of the content to be derivative.
A few have addressed the accessibility issue this could raise for those with disabilities. One commentator questioned whether captioning would then be illegal as it is a text version of audio/ video.
In attempting to defend themselves from the criticism this issue has raised, the Author's Guild posted to their site an explanation / defense. In it they defend their position, but do say that reading to our kids is allowable, and that reading aloud at home is okay. Almost as an afterthought, in the last two sentences of their defense they state:
"Others suggest that challenging Amazon's use of this software challenges accessibility to the visually impaired. It doesn't: Kindle 2 isn't designed for such use. The Guild continues to support efforts to make works truly accessible to the visually impaired."

There are a few issues here. Firstly, accessibility isn't just about making it accessible for those with visual impairments. There are many individuals who would benefit from the text to speech capabilities of the Kindle, such as those with other print disabilities such as learning disabilities or those with mobility difficulties which would make holding a book and turning a page difficult but pushing a button to turn the page okay. Secondly, the issue of whether it's "designed for such use" is irrelevant. It's a nice piece of universal design, it could work well for many with disabilities as well as people who just want that functionality.
I understand that the Author's Guild is positioned to look at the rights of authors, and state that "Until this issue is worked out, Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books." This assumes that text to speech is comparable to audio books read by a real person. I was unable to find information on the engine which drives the Kindle's text to speech functionality, but would be surprised if it's comparable to a human voice. Both Apple computers and those running Microsoft Windows have text to speech engines build into them, not to mention the commercial products on the market such as JAWS (for those with visual impairments) and Kurzweil 3000 (for those with LD and other print disabilities) so if someone was able to get an electronic copy of a book in the past they could have the same functionality (though of variable quality) with their home computer.
A big difference with this episode with the Kindle is that for the first time the electronic version of the book is the primary product versus in the past it was the alternative format and had to be specifically requested from the publisher or created manually.
Ultimately, for many of those with print disabilities, they have a free alternative, and can be free of much of this controversy through which provides free electronic versions of books to eligible individuals. For those who can prove they qualify, Bookshare will be the better option, for the rest of us, I suspect that e-book readers will be come more ubiquitous. Hopefully this controversy will not color peoples vision of the Kindle, but only raise the profile and drive down the price.

Kindle Demonstration @ Amazon
Kindle 2: Amazon's New Wireless Reading Device @ Amazon

Picture of Kindle courtesy of John Pastor

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SSA Criticized for Wait and Denial of Claims

CBS Evening news piece on the wait for individuals to receive Social Security and the amount of individuals turned down for SSI/SSDI

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Snow Poses Challenge for those with Disabilities

Nice to see attention being paid to this in main stream media, though they could use a bit of work on their person first language.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Renegade All Terrain Wheelchair

A great new design for an all terrain wheelchair built here in Maine called the Renegade. It uses mountain bike like wheels and ratcheting mechanism to allow the user to propel the chair using two oar like handles on either side. The oars are pushed front to back, and there are gears to control the amount of tension on the handles. Designed for rough terrain such as rocks, sand or the woods. It even has optional gun rack, fishing pole holder, trailer hitch and accessories for plowing.
It looks like it would take a fair amount of upper body strength, but a great design and unique idea. Chairs start at $3,995
Visit the Renegade site for more information or the inventors You Tube Channel for more video of the chair in action.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Disabled Veterans Catch Waves

CBS Morning Show on a program for veterans who have been disabled. It is part of a VA program which gets them out of the rehab center and into the ocean surfing.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Braille Watch from David Chavez

Braille Watch

A beautiful design for a braille watch from David Chavez. Comprised of two rows of 8 raised dots on individual disks comprise 4 Braille number cells as the face of the watch. Each individual disk turns in or out of a channel to "refresh" the time on the watch.

The designer has given thought to the problems for individuals who are blind or visually impaired and use an audible watches and the lack of privacy and how current Braille watches have "static bumps to orient the watch face in relation to the hands." His site gives excellent details of the watch, it's design, and how it works as well as the testing with a focus group. Oddly enough, the design portfolio that explains the watch does not have alternative text and does not appear to be accessible to those with visual impairments.

Its great to see assistive technology design that is not only functional, but beautifully designed and great to look at. Form can follow function. The adoption of AT use could be greatly improved if more rehabilitation technology designers thought about the aesthetics as well as solving issues such as privacy for AT users.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

DTV Captcha

Captcha's are those irritating series of letters which are partially obscured that you have to enter in order to complete a process on some websites. The intent is to prevent computer programs from automatically completing these things, sending out spam or other equally irritating things.

I had gone to the government's DTV site to claim my coupon for the digital converter box and got the following captcha (sorry about the poor quality, the screen shot didn't come out as well as I'd hope, but you should get the idea.)

Should I be offended? Are they trying to tell me something?

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Soda Bottle Prosthesis

Instructables has an excellent tutorial on making a prosthesis out of a soda bottle which can be fitted with various "terminal device(s)" such as a paint brush etc.

"In resource-limited areas worldwide, individuals with amputations may not be able to gain access to prosthetics devices due to a lack of the materials needed to fabricate them. This simple technique utilizes a 2-liter soda bottle to create below-the-elbow prosthesis suitable for a number of light duty activities.

Please note well that this technique is intended for use by trained prosthetists and it is intended to be preformed only using a plaster cast of the residual limb."

For those not familiar with Instructables, it's a great site where people create and upload tutorials on various topics. You can learn how to solder, create a bird house as well as some other projects I wouldn't advise taking on. Always an interesting read, even if you don't try them out.

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