Ilove Ipod

Ok, so one of my greatest loves is music, and next to that, reading books.  I bought myself an ipod some months ago and it has been quite the adventure learning how to use it and make it accessible.  I used to cringe when I’d think about the ipod, knowing that, as much fun as I’d have with one, it would be extremely frustrating as well.  Apple did not do much in the way of accessibility, the ipod itself is menu driven, uses their proprietary software called itunes which is graphically based, and I just did not think there was any way I could get enjoyment out of something like that.

 

So I set to doing research, most of it before I bought my ipod.  I found that there are many people who have worked very hard to open the ipod doors for the blind.  A company called

T & T consultancy

wrote scripts for jaws and itunes, which for the most part, allow someone using jaws to get past many of the graphical barriers and use the program.  On a side note, this company has developed several other products geared toward blind computer users, and you can find out more at

http://www.tandt-consultancy.com

Now back to ipods, I also found that for some ipods, there is a program called rockbox that can be installed into its firm wear and then some of the features could talk.  I found an e-mail list, where people exchange tips and ideas regarding ipods and other mp3 players.  It was through that list that I discovered Anna Dresner and have just begun to benefit from her wealth of knowledge in the technology field.  She has recently written a book entitled “A pocketful of sound,” which is in essence a user based guide to mp3 players and ipods.  In the book, she explains how she uses various players, describes any adaptations she had to make to use the product, and then gives her personal opinions and recommendations.  This book is available from

http://www.nbp.org

 

You can also find a downloadable demonstration of Anna downloading music using itunes, amazon, and a few other sites, and for that go to

http://www.AccessibleWorld.com

 

Anna also has a blog, and you can link to that by visiting

http://www.nbpupdates.WordPress.com

 

As with any technology, things change almost every day.  It used to be that when a product would come out that was virtually inaccessible to the blind or to anyone with disabilities, it would take years for someone to adapt that product to make it usable.  Now, thanks to the efforts of so many people, some named and some not, that gap has lessened drastically.  Apple may not work as hard to make their products accessible, but there are people out there who care, and who are willing to work hard and that work benefits so many.  It may sound like a small thing, but being able to use an ipod, just like everyone else is a wonderful blessing!

Seeking successful implementation of YouTube captions

About a year ago, Youtube launched an editing tool, Youtube Remixer.  One of the most interesting features was the capacity for captioning, although Youtube cautioned that the captioning feature was still in beta and not to expect a fully functioning captioning tool.  The Remixer, powered by Adobe Premiere Express, allows users to edit videos with text, audio, graphics, overlays, effects, and transitions with no installation.  The Proud Geek blog and other user reviews reflected the fact that the new tool was hard to use, quite buggy and not at all dependable as a real captioning option.   One of the most telling results is that we have not seen a proliferation of captioned videos on YouTube as a result.

Knowbility is looking for successful implementations of the Remixer tool or any other recommended method for captioning videos on YouTube.  Please let us know if and how you address the challenge of accessible video content.  Thanks!

Dedication of AccessU to John Slatin

Here is the text of the opening dedication of the 2008 AccessU, renamed to honor our beloved colleague and mentor, Dr. John Slatin who died in March. Following these remarks, Jim Allan and Jim Thatcher unfurled a banner with the new conference title. That banner now resides on the John Slatin AccessU web site.

Good morning and welcome. I am Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility, the nonprofit organization that collaborates with St Edward’s University each year to bring AccessU to you. Thanks for being here so early. And indeed, thanks for being here…thanks and congratulations on caring about access to technology for everyone, including people with disabilities. We hope you gain skills and information you can use and we always learn from you what your challenges are in implementing accessibility in the world of government agencies and businesses.

AccessU is hosted here at St. Edward’s University for the fourth year. It’s not possible to think about producing this training institute without the steadfast support, encouragement and leadership of St Ed’s. Bill Cahill, the visionary Vice President of Information Technology here at St Ed’s entrusts the campus to us and then Brenda Adrian and Cousett Ruelas and their colleagues make it happen. Please help me thank them for their hard work (applause).

Knowbility’s staff, led by Teenya Franklin have also worked tirelessly to bring together all of the great information and hands on learning that you will have over the next couple of days. Please help me thank Teenya, Kim, Jeff, Anneka, Mike and Steve (applause). There are also dozens of volunteers, who help produce AccessU because they care about this work and are generous with their time – thank you all. (applause)

The instructors you will have here at AccessU are among the brightest lights in the field of accessibility research and innovation. You will get to know them well over the next couple of days and I will ask them to wave or stand so you know who to look for in the hallways. Please feel free to talk with them and take advantage of their experience and presence here. We are fortunate to have their enormous talents and skills and will talk at greater length with several of them at the forum tomorrow at lunch. Today’s lunch will feature a talk by a wonderful speaker named Beth Finke who I met at a conference last year and have been scheming to bring to AccessU. She is bright, funny and so engaging I know you will adore her.

It is exciting to be with so many people who understand the importance of this work and who themselves are working so brilliantly in so many ways to make sure that everyone has access to the opportunities afforded by advances in telecommunications technology. And it is at these times when we are all together that we miss our friend, our mentor and our dear comrade, John Slatin. We miss him terribly.

Jim Allan the webmaster for the Texas School for the Blind and John Slatin’s “Judge Brother” for many years, suggested that we name this conference in honor of John because these three days are all about teaching one another and learning from one another. Teaching and learning…among the things that John Slatin excelled at. As many of you may know, Professor John Slatin of the University of Texas helped start Knowbility, the AIR program and all of the work that we do around the issue of access to technology for all. John’s ability to see decreased throughout his life due to retinal disease. For the last three years he also gallantly battled leukemia. He died in March of 2008 and our community and each of us individually is bereft.

John’s eventual blindness was certainly one motivating factor in his interest in accessibility, but his appreciation and understanding of the power of technology came long before he lost his sight. Many people forget or never knew that John was an English professor.

In fact, I wasn’t sure I would tell this story, but I told it to Kathy Keller this morning and we decided that John would enjoy sharing it. John’s wife Anna Carroll told me at breakfast the other morning that many of their friends from Body Choir did not know that John was a UT professor until they attended his memorial service. Body Choir is a group that meets weekly or twice weekly – an improvisational, amateur dance company where friends gather and move as they are inspired to the music chosen by a facilitator. They dance solo, in pairs or in groups. Anna often facilitates and is very much at the center of the amazing energy that is Body Choir.  John loved to dance with the group and he and his guidedog Dillon were often on the dance floor with the group. 

Surprised by her friends’ ignorance of John’s profession, Anna asked them, “Well what did you think John did?” “Not sure,” they replied, “Thought maybe he was just a happy unemployed blind guy who like to dance.” (laughter) John was so good at meeting people where THEY were and joining them in the things that were of interest to them.

John was a poet. He loved language and the arts and saw in technology the potential to amplify an individual’s ability to tell his or her story, to share the narrative and even to share the structure and telling of the story…hyper-narrative he called it. The promise of interactive storytelling and multi-sensory experiences were all tremendously exciting to John and he explored these avenues adventurously. At his memorial service, John’s UT colleague Peg Syverson recalled her days with him,

“John used to joke that he used technology because he wanted to make English expensive. He meant he wanted to make English count, in ways that the University can recognize and appreciate….John was not merely an innovator; he was a visionary. And he was not a visionary who merely saw into the future, he brought the future he saw into being. And the future he brought into being was dazzling and entirely unexpected. The advent of technology into our field was poised to mechanize routine activities such as grading papers and giving exams. John saw it differently, that technology could become a vehicle for liberation and transformation in the humanities. It could liberate teachers and students from stale, predictable pedagogical practices, and it could transform the humanities from a musty archive into a world of dynamic and creative possibility.”

I took English at UT during that time, leaving my empty nest as my kids were grown to finish a degree started many years before. I took an English class from Tonya Browninga brilliant teacher whose graduate advisor was John Slatin. She mentioned John’s influence consistently as she seamlessly integrated technology into her teaching. The fusion of discovering the Harlem Renaissance writers or Walt Whitman or Wallace Stevens as we learned the narrative potential of new technologies was thrilling. Of course I had no idea that the “John Slatin” that Tonya referred to so often would become such a mentor in my own life and work.

So it is no wonder that when someone with the brilliance to understand so well the revolutionary potential of technology, when someone like John Slatin raised his voice to insist that he not be shut out…well, who could fail to listen?

John’s voice was undeniable and yet not strident and I rarely saw him angry. He became an accessibility expert as a way to ensure that he too could use technology to pursue all of his many interests. He volunteered and served with Knowbility, on University committees and on standards boards. He became a leader because leadership was needed. And that is one of the tragedies of his too too early departure from this life. It seems to me that John was still becoming. He was always learning and sharing and helping us all to learn from him.

So I could tell stories and stories about John…and I am sure I will. I will tell them to you and I encourage all of you to tell me and to tell each other your stories about John during this conference we are naming in his honor. And if you have not yet done so, read his blog the leukemia letters.

Remember him through your stories, our stories and through his work. John would like that. John’s wife Anna is gathering ideas for a long term memorial for John on the John Slatin Wiki, so please feel free to submit any ideas you may have.

And now I will ask John’s two Judge Brothers, Jim Allan and Jim Thatcher to come up and unfurl the banner that we will hang today and for the rest of the days and years that we teach accessibility here at John Slatin AccessU. Thank you.

A Typing Teacher

 

I have recently discovered a new program that may be useful if you teach blind children, or even those with other disabilities.  It is called TypeAbility.  Step by step, it takes the student through learning all of the keys on a pc keyboard.  It is very user friendly, even tells jokes at the end of each lesson.  This program could also be useful for older people who are newly disabled and are new to the pc, or not as familiar with some of the keys.  You can skip ahead, past the very basics… there are 68 lessons.  It is customizable and actually fun!!  As a teacher, you can go into the program and read evaluation reports on your students.  You can download a free trial, just to give it a shot before buying it.

You can find out more about this program and a few others to help the blind at

http://www.yesaccessible.com/typeability.html

 

You can hear an audio demonstration of TypeAbility and learn about the man behind the program by going to

http://podcast.freedomscientific.com/FSCast/episodes/fscast015-february2008.mp3

On a side note, the Freedom Scientific podcasts are very informative and fun to listen to, and you can download the year’s archives.

 

AccessU 2008 first timer

Knowbility held a conference last week called AccessU, and I was privileged to attend for the first time, as well as assist in one of the classes!    It was an excellent time for networking, a great chance to get to know some marvelous people in various capacities, and just overall fun.    There were several classes to choose from, all instructing in accessibility in one form or another, and taught by very experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the field.    I personally realized that I have a lot to learn, but also came from the conference with   a lot of ideas and knowledge.    If you were there, I hope you felt as I did about the whole experience.    If you couldn’t make it this year, I would highly recommend it to increase your knowledge in accessibility!  I just wanted to touch on some things I learned from and enjoyed at the conference.    Please, if you’d like to add anything or comment, feel free! First and foremost, we cannot talk about AccessU without at the very least mentioning John Slatin, to whom this conference was dedicated.  I personally did not have the honor of knowing him, but am sure he would be proud that so many people came to learn about something he put so much of his life into. Speaking of extra-ordinary people, we got to see Jim Thatcher receive SIGCAS 2008 “Making A Difference” award at the conference.  I have had the pleasure of working with him a little and benefitting from his vast knowledge of accessibility.  You can find more about him at his web sitewww.jimthatcher.com.  Another highlight of the conference for me was getting to meet Beth Finke and hear her story.  I was touched, inspired and laughed a lot too as she shared with us her journey through some difficult challenges to become a successful writer and mentor.  It was great to meet and talk to her.  Her children’s book `Safe and Sound` is fantastic!  You can find out more about her at her web site

www.bethfinke.com

I had a great time as an assistant instructor to Randy Horwitz in the “basic web accessibility testing with jaws” course.  I hope our class members had fun and learned about a program that I feel is my life-line to the www.  I myself learned a lot from Randy and really enjoyed getting to know him too. I also got my first experience with live audio description of a film at the Alamo draft house.  VSA arts of Texas can be hired to audio describe films, or even operas and other live performances.  Talk about accessibility!  I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to performances that I pay good money to attend, and have no clue what is happening on stage.  What a fantastic service!  You can find out more about them at

www.vsatx.org

 These are just a few of the wonderful experiences I had at this year’s AccessU.  If anyone would like to share their experiences, I would love to hear from you!  Just being there really was motivational for me.  Of course I am somewhat motivated out of necessity, I know why accessibility is so important, but I have a new desire to learn about what needs to be done.  I not only want to enjoy the benefits of accessibility, I want to be part of the whole process!