Re: Technology improves for people with disabilities as firmsrespond to moral, legal demands article from USA Today 9/10
David Moore <jesusloves1966@...>
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Wow, Thanks a lot for that!
I would like to see all computer programs at universities and colleges, demand students to take a couple assistive technology classes as a part of their degree.
I think this is a must!
I love to see assistive technology getting people’s attention in the mainstream. It is so much better than it was just 20 years ago.
If more and more software is developed with accessibility in mine, it will be beautiful!
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From: Alan Dicey
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2018 5:05 PM
Cc: Tech Talk Groups
Subject: [TechTalk] Technology improves for people with disabilities as firmsrespond to moral, legal demands article from USA Today 9/10
article from USA Today 9/10/2018
This article quotes ACB members Doug Wakefield and Don Barrett, as well as
ACB executive director Eric Bridges.
Technology improves for people with disabilities as firms respond to moral,
By Edward C. Baig, USA Today
September 10, 2018
Xbox's latest release, the Adaptive Controller, allows compatibility
external joysticks, pedals, switches and buttons. USA TODAY
Retiree Douglas Wakefield is a tech enthusiast.
The 76-year-old begins a typical day by donning his Apple Watch and
listening to its synthesized voice deliver the weather. Over coffee, the
Arlington, Virginia, resident catches up on overnight news on his iPhone X
and consumes books read out loud on topics like coding - his goal is to
write apps for the iPhone.
Blind since birth, Wakefield has been taking advantage of features on the
most popular tech devices and platforms that have made them more useful to
people with disabilities.
These have meant big changes in the way he goes about his daily routine.
A former broadcaster for the Department of Agriculture and later a computer
specialist working in government, he uses Microsoft's Seeing AI app for the
iPhone to, among other purposes, scan barcodes that let him distinguish the
groceries that are delivered: packages of crackers, or the Chardonnay his
wife prefers to the Pinot Noir he favors.
Previously, someone would have to tell him and his wife, who is also blind,
which bottle was which.
Thanks to narration tracks on Netflix and Apple TV, he can take in a movie,
following audio that depicts the scenes, from what characters are wearing to
their facial expressions. In 2016, Netflix reached a settlement with
advocates for the blind community to add such "audio
descriptions" tracks to more of the content.
One of the biggest shifts in Wakefield's day-to-day routine comes from the
Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod; he owns all three
voice-activated smart speakers. For example, he can summon the assistants to
turn on household lights by voice.
"I often say if all these tools were around when I was going to school, God,
it would be a breeze," he says.
Over the last few years, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have
leveraged artificial intelligence, computer vision and advances in voice
recognition to deliver tools to assist blind individuals and people who are
deaf, have motor impairments or other disabilities. At the same time, new
technologies such as voice-activated speakers and more captioning on
websites and in social media have widened access to some internet services.
Pressured to do the right thing
Development of these specialized features are driven by a confluence of
factors - a desire by tech leaders to be more inclusive, but also the need
to satisfy legal and market imperatives.
"This is the right thing to do both from a moral point of view but it's also
the right thing to do from a business point of view," says Amazon director
of accessibility Peter Korn.
Companies must adhere to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and comply
with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires the federal
government to make electronic and information technology accessible to
people with disabilities. And many states have their own Section-508-type
requirements or consumer-protection statutes.
Laws have provided the biggest benefit to blind people, because "you can't
count on people's compassion to drive industry," says Anil Lewis, executive
director for the Jernigan Institute at National Federation of the Blind.
Companies are also cognizant that to keep expanding their customer base,they
need to make products that everyone can use.
More than a billion people, or about 15 percent of the global population,
have some form of disability, according to the World Health Organization.
What's more, as the general population ages, "accessibility is not something
that is strictly thought of anymore as helping people who are blind or
helping people who are blind or helping people who are deaf," says Geoff
Freed, director of technology projects and web media standards at the
National Center for Accessible Media. "When you make something accessible
for a specific population, the entire population benefits."
Built-in tools, not after-thoughts
But there's still plenty of room for progress across the tech industry.
Increased tech accessibility is needed to break down some of the barriers
that prevent or make it difficult for people with disabilities to enter the
workforce. In 2017, 18.7 percent of people with a disability were employed,
the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, compared to 65.7 percent for those
without a disability. And the unemployment rate for people with a disability
was 9.2 percent, more than double the 4.2 percent rate for the rest of the
Artificial intelligence promises to help predict consumers' needs, model
human conversation and sort through vast tracts of data - all potentially
helpful for people with disabilities.
But, "we're still kind of at the starting line with AI in terms of what its
promises are and what it will be able to deliver," said Eric Bridges,
executive director of the American Council of the Blind.
Advocates also warn that technological innovations meant as conveniences
must avoid conferring a stigma on the user.
"People want their accessibility tools to be built into the same devices
that everybody else is using whenever possible, rather than have their own
device that makes them stand out because of their disability," says Eve
Andersson, the director of accessibility engineering at Google.
Lewis of the Jernigan Institute was on a panel at an accessibility
conference when an executive from IBM brought up the idea of an artificial
intelligence robot that could help a blind person check into a hotel and
show them around their room. While acknowledging it could be helpful for
some, Lewis was insulted.
"Just give me the key. If I get to the hotel and expect this (AI robot) to
take me to the room, that's going to make me lazy and not practice my
independent travel skills. And one day that technology may not work or not
What companies are doing
Microsoft recently came out with a $100 adaptive controller for the Xbox
with multiple ports that are compatible with a range of optional
accessibility peripherals, including bite switches, single-handed joysticks
and foot pedals.
The packaging also has been designed for gamers who have limited mobility.
One way is through the use of loops and a specially designed
label. Designers also followed a 'no teeth' principle that didn't require
users to open the package with their teeth.
At its Build developer conference this past May, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
announced an "AI for Accessibility" pledge to spend $25 million over five
years to put AI tools in the hands of developers who can accelerate the
development of accessibility solutions.
At its own I/O developer conference last spring, Google revealed plans for a
Lookout app coming later this year, which by employing machine learning and
image processing, promises to help blind people wearing a Pixel around their
neck learn about their environment. It uses spoken cues to describe where a
bathroom is located or to detect people, text and objects around them
("scissors at 12:00.")
Some accessibility features are fairly simple -- on the iPhone, for example,
a person with visual impairments can magnify the display or invert the
screen colors to better make out the screen. Other tools on the phone are
meant to help disabled users interact with switches and other adaptive
Wakefield, for instance, also uses a refreshable Braille display that helps
him feel in Braille what is on the screen. "I don't care how good synthetic
speech is, sometimes they can really botch a word." He joked that the Jewish
holiday of Chanukah is always pronounced "chanookah."
Caption: An accessibility shortcuts menu on Apple's iPad Pro (Photo: Apple)
More than 50 third party Bluetooth hearing aid models work with Apple's Made
For iPhone hearing aid program which came out in 2013. Last year, Apple
partnered with Cochlear on the first Made For iPhone cochlear implant. As
part of the upcoming iOS 12 software update, consumers can also turn AirPods
wireless earbuds into a hearing aid of sorts, using an Apple-developed
assistive technology called Live Listen.
Amazon recently introduced a feature for the Echo Show smart speaker with a
screen called Tap to Alexa, which lets people with speech impairments query
Alexa without using their voice. Instead, they can tap the display and
choose among preset menu options, maybe to have Alexa deliver weather or
news. Folks can customize such requests too, perhaps using the Echo Show or
Echo Spot to turn certain smart home devices on or off. Users of
screen-based Echo devices can also turn on captioning.
Disability advocates say that ideally, companies will build assistive
technology into their development process - rather than as an afterthought.
"What some tech companies do is say, `We'll release an accessible version
later, and we'll talk about it like it's something really sexy and, woohoo,
exciting.' We actually want (it) to be kind of boring" and just be
accessible," says Eve Hill, a partner at Brown, Goldstein & Levy in
Washington, D.C., and former deputy assistant attorney general at the
Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
Don Barrett, a member of the American Council of the Blind, agrees: "If you
get coders and computer scientists accessibility-aware from the beginning .
it's not a big deal.' I think people just don't think along those lines," he
Caption: Apple CEO Tim Cook with actor and deaf advocate Nyle DiMarco making
a surprise visit to California School for the Deaf in Fremont, Calif.) for
the launch of the company's Everyone Can Code initiative in May 2018.
That attitude is changing. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been pushing the
company's "Everyone Can Code" curricula for the Swift programming language
to schools across the country that serve students who are deaf and blind.
"At Apple, we consider accessibility to be a basic human right," says Sarah
Herrlinger, director of global accessibility policy at the company.
And more tech companies have dedicated accessibility units.
Facebook's Matt King was recruited from IBM in 2015. A year later, his
project at the social network began helping sightless or low-vision people
"see" what's in pictures by describing what's in them. At the time, the
photo descriptions were only available in English and only on iOS and
Android; descriptions have since been rolled out to the Web and to more than
two dozen languages.
Read more: Facebook taps artificial intelligence for users with disabilities
Since then, Facebook has been expanding the kinds of audible descriptors it
can identify, including such activities as sitting, eating, walking or
playing a musical instrument. And in December, it started naming friends in
a photo using facial recognition.
Caption: Matt King, a Facebook accessibility engineer who has been blind
since childhood, is working to create tools that will use artificial
intelligence to identify objects in photos and describe them to users. Video
by Christopher Schodt for USA TODAY
Though not ready to be commercialized, a New York developer Abhishek Singh
built a prototype that lets Alexa devices with a camera detect sign language
and respond with transcribed text.
Machine learning has "made it possible for the computer to see an image of
me and continuously make a prediction of what sign it thought I was making,"
Singh says. "The purpose of this project was to start a conversation, not
solve the entire sign-language-to-text problem."
And despite also being a work in progress, Microsoft's Seeing AI app is also
providing benefits to people like Wakefield. Among its features, the app
uses the phone's camera to describe a person's approximate age and mood,
though not always with perfect accuracy (e.g., "47-year-old man looking
happy"). Seeing AI can also read text, identify currency and describe
colors, which can help a blind person pick out a matching outfit.
Wakefield has one lasting complaint that people both with and without
disabilities can relate to, the price of today's tech gear: "A lot of people
can't afford this stuff. Seeing AI is free. But the iPhone isn't."
To read the article online, go to
Sharon Lovering, Editor
American Council of the Blind
1703 N. Beauregard St., Suite 420
Alexandria, VA 22311
Learn more about us at www.acb.org <http://www.acb.org/>
Follow us on Twitter @acbnational
Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AmericanCounciloftheBlindOfficial
With best regards
Plantation, Sunny South Florida