Accessibility Ups And Downs

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, hash tagged #GAAD on Twitter. In so saying, we first attempt to get a handle on what “Accessibility” actually means.
I am in agreement with one of the panelists on the Serotalk Podcast that there really is no overarching definition of accessibility. It relates to the ability of an individual to interact with his or her environment in such a way that productivity is made easier. I would perhaps say that, if one views it as a sort of social construct, it is the opposite of disability. That is to say accessibility means that one is able to mitigate the limitations typically experienced as a result of a medical condition through the use of technology or the removal of physical and societal barriers.
When blind folks hear the term Accessibility, we most often think of ensuring that a website or app works well with our screen-reader of choice and/or in our browser of choice. This means not only being able to launch the site, but also to move around, make purchases, and interact with its content.
One of the more exciting developments in this area has certainly been the rise of the smartphone. Currently, the most prominent of these among our population is the iPhone, with its easy-to-use VoiceOver program. Some sighted individuals don’t realize it, but if you have an iOS device of any kind you can easily activate and play with VoiceOver yourself by simply clicking the home button three times in rapid succession. To deactivate it, just press that same button three times quickly again. When this is on, you’ll need to tap each icon twice in order to cause it to launch, but it’s pretty easy. As the founders of this day encourage everyone to try out some of these techniques to learn a little about our experiences, such as going mouseless and using keyboard commands, I’d encourage you to give VoiceOver a shot.
One of the most exciting recent developments in the iOS world is that Amazon has finally made its Kindle app usable with VoiceOver. This has been a long time in coming, and still I am pleased that yet another mainstream company has taken the time to dip its toes in the accessibility waters as well. They’ve actually done a pretty good job with it, at least in my opinion. I snagged a title from their site, admittedly a free one so that I could sample how things would work, and was able to read it with intuitive gestures that anyone who uses iOS with VoiceOver would quickly figure out. And they allow for more flexibility in book navigation, use of information contained therein, and the like. It’s a great start, and I salute you.
I have also found that iOS can come in handy when one is unable to get sites to work on a Windows PC. I had been trying to purchase Microsoft Office 2013 from their site, and whenever I entered my debit card information the page would refresh about halfway through putting the numbers in. I guess there are legitimate reasons for creating pages that do this, but I was still relieved that when I launched Safari on the iPhone I was able to enter all of my information without being removed from the proper edit fields.
There has been a lot of progress made with regards to access to technology for those with varying needs, but an area that remains a thorn in my side, as it has for at least seven years, is Captcha. You know what I’m talking about. The characters that, I’ve heard, are even a challenge for sighted people to interpret in many cases that must often be entered to complete sign-up for sites, obtain tickets, and other things.
There are specialized Captcha-solving programs for individuals who are blind or otherwise have real difficulty interpreting what’s on the screen, but my issue with those is I can’t get them to work very well on my machine. The programs are no longer actively updated, and much of the help information is no longer available to instruct one on how to use them anyway.
And audio captcha? Well, you may as well be listening to Chinese. I have a hearing problem, but again even people with normal hearing say that in most cases they can’t really understand what is being said.
“Accessibility” as we know it is such a vast topic that it is impossible for me to thoroughly cover every angle of it. What about for persons in wheelchairs: being able to get apartments that they can enter with relative ease. There is a real shortage of such units, sadly. And captioning for individuals who are deaf, so that they can enjoy TV programs like everyone else. I’m sure that some of these topics are covered in greater detail by other #GAAD participants, and invite you to go and check them out.

Data About DATA

I wrote an article entitled Riding The Bus in Chapel Hill a few months ago for the Go Triangle blog, in which I talked about my experience using Chapel Hill Transit. Given that I have located to another city in the Triangle area, Durham, I thought it would be fun to juxtapose that prior experience with my current one.

My silly title comes from the fact the the Durham Area Transit Authority? Association? I’m not sure which, is shortened to DATA. Makes it sound like the city is a hub for technology and information, which I suppose this whole area strives to be with its Research Triangle Park.

Of course, DATA is different from Chapel Hill Transit in that its primary base isn’t necessarily college students. Well maybe many college students ride, as the Route 6 that takes me to my apartment in Duke Manor spends a significant amount of time on the Duke University campus.

Any system is most obviously powered by its drivers. The Durham drivers are perhaps less likely to engage me in brief conversation than those in Chapel Hill were. By this point though, the ones who regularly transport me know who I am and will say “good morning” or “have a good rest of the day” when appropriate.

One very good thing is that I have yet to miss a stop and go sailing back around. This is a result not only of the drivers’ vigilance, but also that of the other passengers. Invariably, someone will tap me on the leg or shoulder to ask where I plan to disembark. I have learned, as I usually do, to notice when I’m arriving at my apartment’s location.

This ability is aided by the stop announcement system, which is more intricate than any I can recall hearing. I recorded an audio file some time ago to capture that ambience that I called A Fun Ride Through Durham .

The first thing I noticed, as I demonstrate in that recording, is that every time someone pulls the cord to request a stop, the bus says “Please remember to remain seated, or hold onto a railing, until the bus comes to a complete stop”. Then once the door hisses open, it says “For your safety, please watch your step when getting off the bus”.

Second, it somehow recognizes if individuals are rockin’ too hard to a song, either in open speakers or a headset. It’ll say “Please, no loud music allowed on the DATA bus,” until something is done about this situation.

Finally, and perhaps most fascinating of all, someone had taken the side-facing seats at the front of the bus that are typically reserved for older folks and those with disabilities. I continued down the aisle until I was able to locate an open seat, but then the system pointed this out:

“Please note, seats in front are reserved for the elderly and those with disabilities”.

It kind of put a big, red dot on that poor individual’s forehead.

That’s just a little taste of what it’s like for me taking the DATA bus to and from work every day. Quite often packed, full of interesting happenings and conversation. I’m sure it’ll become even more so with the improving weather, supposing said improvements actually happen.

Intro Post: Old hats may wish to skip

So I realized that since I zapped that other blog, I no longer have an intro post. This means that I should try and come up with one, right? Well its as good a time as any to examine who I am, I guess. Those who’ve known me a long time might wish to skip this post, but maybe I can make it interesting for you, too.

I was born. I’m told the day dawned cold and rainy, but I’ve also been told that it was Friday, September 13, 1979. I know that last wasn’t possible, since the calendars say the 13th was on a Thursday that year. In any event, that kinda makes for a good story.

I have a rare genetic condition called Norrie disease, which results usually in total blindness from birth due to retinal detachment. It also causes progressive hearing loss, which has been the more adjustment requiring part of things for me. It’s all good though: I have not and will never let it stop me from doing the same crazy things I always do.

Hailing from the queen city of Charlotte, I grew up in a family of five sisters. For much of my early life, my only real male influence was my cousin who is about a year younger than my 33. My dad then came into my life during teen aged years, and he has certainly taught me a lot about what it means to be a good and honorable man. And anyone should know that one doesn’t have to donate sperm in order to be a good father.

I went to high school in a small town called Southern Pines NC, and while I complained at first about being out of the city, it was probably the best thing I had done to that point. It allowed me to find myself academically.

Eventually I returned to Charlotte to attend the major university there, going on to experience even greater academic success as a psychology major. What is it that they say about psych majors needing the most therapy?

After five aimless years just working in a sheltered workshop for blind folks in Charlotte and enjoying living with my cousin, I made the somewhat random decision to attend grad school. I did this at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I attempted to complete an MS in rehabilitation counseling and psychology. Let’s just say all that academic prowess I thought I had pretty much went out of the window. The program was supposed to take two years to finish, but I clung to that raft as it got sucked down the raging river for almost three. It wasn’t a total waste, though. Is anything, it showed me how not to adequately prepare for such an expedition.

Is I do make another go of that, I know now that I need solid, definable goals. I’m still working those out, but part of me is longing to do something in a journalistic capacity, as I had started to consider shortly after undergrad ended. I’m not really sure how to begin taking that from dream to occurrence, though. Just doing a lot of thinking.

And now I reside in Durham NC, where I again work at a sheltered workshop. The nice thing about this one though is that there is real potential for promotion, should I choose to take that path. We shall see how it all plays out.

Of course, there’s more to me than I could easily capture in one post. If you continue to read, you’ll see lots of stuff about books I like, my favorite sports teams, (I’m all about North Carolina except for the duke Blue Devils), music I love, and not surprisingly, the places I go. Feel free to chime in with questions or suggestions whenever you like. And most of all, enjoy.