Education and persistance change history!

As I have previously stated here, I love to shop on line.  One of my favorites used to be eBay, but as I talked about some time ago, they have made some changes to their site that has made shopping there more difficult and tiresome for me using jaws.  But there are millions of other places to shop, and in most cases, retail stores like Wal-Mart have web sites, making it possible to shop there without having to go to the store.  In so many cases, these sites are not completely accessible and do not follow the guidelines for accessibility that are so easily available!

 

One such site is Target.com.  If you go to the above link, you can see that they are using flash media extensively and it is very difficult for users of most assistive technologies to navigate effectively here.  Two years ago, after many blind users complained, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) filed a class action suit against Target.  This was the first suit of its kind and there was heated debating on both sides of the issue.  Does Target.com’s inaccessibility violate the American’s Wwith Disibilities Act?  Some said that an inaccessible web site is not unlike refusing to install wheelchair ramps in a public location.  Of course we know that barriers to those with disabilities are no longer simply physical.  With technology becoming an integral part of life for everyone, the disabled members of society have every right to access the same information, services and goods via the web,

thus the emergence of Section 508.  Some even wanted all disabled people to boycott Target, unless or until they chose to pay attention and acknowledge their disabled shoppers!

 

After a very long battle, this week a resolution was announced.  There is still a lot of debating over whether or not we should celebrate the court’s decision.  Here are my pennies worth.  I believe that this is a very important and positive outcome for accessibility!  Whether or not they will try to find loopholes in the settlement, or that only blind computer users are mentioned, the fact is that something is being done.  They are talking, being educated, being made aware of the need for accessibility!  If a multibillion dollar business like Target is working on this, then in my always very humble opinion, it will only be the beginning!  Not only will Target’s competitors most likely jump in, but the bar will be raised to all other retail websites.  Will this fix everything?  No, but at least we’re making progress, and with the NFB and Jim Thatcher watching, Target will no doubt become the first fully accessible retail website on the net!

Read more on Glenda’s blog, where there is a wealth of information on this and other relevant topics.

 

I'm not at my computer, help!!

Many times, I am presented with the following scenario; I am at someone’s house, a Public Library, or even an Internet Cafe.  There are computers available, but none have a screen reader installed.  I need to look up something on Google, or visit some other website, but cannot do this on my own because the computer available does not talk.  If I have Microsoft available, I could try to activate its imbedded narrator.  While this is not a preferable solution, maybe I could get what info I need.  Perhaps I have a Mac computer without Microsoft’s narrator, so maybe I could try to use Apple’s voice over solution.  Maybe I don’t even know for sure what is installed, I just need to get to the internet, check my e-mail, or in some cases I’ve wanted to help someone download a software and use it.

 

Up until recently, I have been out of luck in this scenario.  If all I want to do is check e-mail or access the web, I have needed my portable note taker, such as a Braille note from Humanware, a Pac Mate from Freedom Scientific, or Braille sense from GW Micro.  There are several more options out there now for note takers or Personal Data Assistants, many of which are pretty pricey and you don’t get quite the same functionality as you do from a PC.  Of course I can always use my own laptop, but in these cases, I don’t have it with me.  So what is the solution?  Well, there are two that I have found so far and want to touch on.  If anyone knows of any others out there, I’d love to have some input.

 

The first solution is just for web access.  This program is called web anywhere, and it will work on any operating system and in most cases can be started independently, without sighted assistance.  You don’t have to download any software; you simply type “wa.cs.washington.edu” into the run area of windows, whether it be windows xp or windows vista.  You can even run this on a Mac and it works the same.  Once the program is running, you can type control + L to get to the address bar and type in any URL.  There are several other keys you can use to navigate a page and while this is not as powerful as an installed screen reader, such as jaws or window-eyes, it works well enough to view basic web content.

 

The second solution would not only give you access to web content, but other software installed on a computer.  This program is called System Access.  It is a less expensive software and completely portable.  It comes on a flash card, which you can use with any computer, either in a built-in PCMCIA slot, or by using a USB card reader.  Unfortunately, the only real info I have on this is what is in the description, as I have not purchased it myself to try it out.  I have spoken to several people who have used it however, and they say that with most applications, it works very well.  It does not require installation, it simply runs off of the flash card and then you just take it out when you are done.

 

As I said, these are the only two solutions I have found so far, but I am always looking.  Sometimes I get tired of lugging my lap top around, or simply don’t think I’ll need it and then end up wanting to do something on a computer.  Something like this would be great in a library setting, where you need to use their computers for research, or checking your web based e-mail.  In fact, if you watch the video on the web anywhere main page, it shows someone doing just that.  System access would be great for the web, as well as using word, outlook, or some other software already installed on a computer, and you would only have to carry a small card and possibly a little reader.  Please, if anyone knows of some other programs out there, freely comment!!

A menu that speaks to you?

An interactive menu that can talk?  Yes, it is true, and I saw one in action!

I love to eat out, don’t we all?  We pay good money to have choices in what we want to eat at any particular restaurant.  It is also a social thing, going out with one person, or a group of people and it was not always easy to have someone read me the menu.  I tended to take the first thing that remotely sounded good, and had no idea what my other choices were.

  

Several years ago, I saw my first Braille menu and was very impressed.  They handed me this huge book that had the menu, complete with a table of contents, since there were sometimes 100 brailled pages.  I found what I wanted and ordered it.  Pretty easy, right?  Over time however, the menus were not always updated, so I’d find what I wanted, which took quite some time because I like to know all of my choices before deciding.  I tell the waiter, and they tell me “Sorry, we don’t make that anymore.”  The prices too were not updated, so if they did have what I wanted, I’d get a shock when the bill came!  Sometimes I would try to get my sighted husband or someone with me to help me look, just to make sure they actually have the item and check the price, but then I may as well have that person read the menu to me, because the items were not always laid out in the Braille version the same as in the print.  After awhile, I stopped asking for the Braille menu.

Then there came the fabulous internet!!  Well you all know I love the internet, and you can find pretty much any info you could ever need or want, including restaurant menus on line!  Most times these worked great, and I could look at the menu ahead of time if I knew which restaurant I would be going to, or even make my own Braille menus.  I like this option because I didn’t have to waste time I could be chatting, another thing I love to do.  I already knew what I wanted and that was that.

  

Then a few days ago, I was in San Antonio at the Lion and Rose Pub.  We were there to inform people about Knowbility’s upcoming AIR San Antonio in October.  There, I saw for the first time a talking menu and I was extremely impressed!!  It was easy to use, the voice was clear, and it didn’t take long to figure out all of the choices.  It looks cool too!  It lights up as it talks and it’s the size of a tablet, not a huge book full of pages.  I realized that this opened doors for a lot of people, not just me as a totally blind patron, but those with varying degrees of visual impairments, those that needed alternative languages and anyone else who found menu reading cumbersome.  It even has a USB port, so that it can be easily updated as menu items change.  You can also call your server and show your order right then and there, so no more misunderstandings between waiters and patrons.

Hey, why not just do away with conventional paper menus and just use these?  You would only have to buy them once, and a whole table can use it.  I would love to see more restaurants incorporate them.  Thanks to Taylannas Inc. for manufacturing these brilliant little machines!!  Next time you eat out, think of how neat it would be to have a talking menu in your hands and maybe we can help educate and encourage restaurants about them and there many benefits!!