Re: Technology improves for people with disabilities as firmsrespond to moral, legal demands article from USA Today 9/10

Leedy Diane Bomar

Rather than having required classes on accessibility, I would rather that it be included in all classes teaching app and web development! The classes I have taken on app and web design and development focus on “fun with vision”. Students are given assignments that require developing a cute, graphics based, eye stimulating project. I want to see less emphasis on cute eye-popping projects, and get back to function first! Seamless formats can be developed for whose who access the screen with or without sight.

Also, I think it is IMPERATIVE that people who are blind, be hired into development and marketing positions. The technology is there, and the greatest barrier is the mindset of most sighted humans! “Out of sight” is truly out of the minds of most developers!

I was disappointed in the early 90s that 508 did not have more teeth. I worked for a SW/HW company, at that time, and the powers-that-were had tremendous concern about the impact for their products. As soon as they realize that 508 would consist of no more than suggested guidelines, they didn’t matter, anymore. As far a accessibility for people who were blind, the general consensus was that over 90% of “those people” actually had some vision, and if greater accessibility was provided for them, that was all that mattered. Totals did not count! I fought hard in the early to mid 90s to require Microsoft include accessibility in their operating system, to no avail. Multiple times, I called GSA to literally bet for more requirements, rather than guidelines. In fact, at CSUN, Greg Lowney, Microsoft’s only person working for the “accessibility department” told me many things, such as “what if Microsoft takes the position of not including accessibility part of the operating system, because we do not want to put the adaptive technology vendors out of business?” Of course, Microsoft was being sued, at that time, by DOJ for monopolized the new World Wide Web, by forcing Internet Explorer on everyone. Sound very noble, but hollow, image without substance; an excuse for exclusion. Greg asked me “how would that fly?” I told him that was a VERY bad approach, and it was! Microsoft senior management, including Bill Gates, did not think the numbers of people who needed accessibility justified the expense for development! 

When Henter-Joyce decided to develop JAWS for Windows, another software engineer, also blind, and I lobbied hard to convince them to focus on Windows NT, rather than Windows 3.1 It was the up and coming pproduct, and subsets of it would be used for future Windows versions. It would have benefitted personal computers, and software designers, like me and my friend. We needed to develp for products which were not yet in the public’s hands, but, were going to be available by the time JAWS forWindows 3.1 would be ready. The response we got was that they were not receiving enough requests, for Windows NT, but, had lots of requests for Windows 3.1, which had been released several years before.

The stress of this fight with my company, Microsoft, and GSA, and the fact that I was losing, plus had 3 small children at home, took a serious turn in my emotional and physical health. I was being set up to be laid off, my colleague had already been laid off, so for self-preservation I left on long-term disability, and SSDI. It was humiliating, frustrating, and still makes me angry! I was broken, literally, emotionally devastated. The career I had persued in college and the 10 years I had worked as a Software Engineer, were for naught.I became what the world had always expected for me, living on the dole, being worthless. I did not want to uproot my children, didn’t have the confidence or resources to train in a different operating system, and take a job that would only lead to less money and no health insurance, for my kids. It was one of the lowest times of my life!

Now, over 225 years later, the kids are grown and gone, and my private disability from my former employer will go away on December 3, 2018, my 65th birthday. I don’t know how I can keep my home, or where else I can live! Again, the desperation has returned, though I am still passionate about current and future technologies, and our inclusion. The most significant barriers for people who are blind is the mindset of what I call the “sight-dependent” who cannot grasp what they cannot see. The assumptions about what we cannot do, and what devices should be developed to “help “ us are so much more complicated, and unnecessary, than simple inclusion/ consideration in developing physical and virtual environments. The technology is there. We just want “equal access to information” in alternative usable formats!But, sighted people cannot determine what we need, and develop it, we have to be integrated into development teams. The curriculum offered for students learning design and coding must integrate development for all sensory disabilities, equally. 

I don’t know how to proceed, personally. I would like to learn Swift and evaluate apps and design specs for accessibility, but, the big companies, such as VFO, are gobbling up that space, now that the need for JAWS is shrinking.We, as technology savvy, individual users are the best ones to force this in an effective direction, for the prosperity of those who come after us. I don’t know if I have the strength to fight, anymore, because I am now fighting for basics of food and shelter Bill Gates and Microsoft literally and directly stole my career, and livelihood, not to mention my self-confidence.I want to see a brighter future, and would like to contribute to that. But, can that be done while living under a bush on a trail, somewhere?

Microsoft is finally trying to make up for the mistakes regarding accessibility, they have previously made. Whether it is the current climate of “social responsibility” and inclusion, or good old-fashioned competition, I cannot say. But, for me, it is too little, too late!

 Diane Bomar

On Sep 12, 2018, at 15:27, David Moore <jesusloves1966@...> wrote:

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!

David Moore


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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,

legal demands


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

be available."


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.

(Photo: Apple)


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.


What's next?

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


slovering@... <mailto:slovering@...>


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With best regards

God Bless


Plantation, Sunny South Florida






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