National Newsletter May 2016

 

CCB National Newsletter

May 2016

Announcements

++GTT Grande Prairie Meeting Invitation, May 6, 2016:

CCB GTT is pleased to be hosting its second meeting in Grande Prairie, Alberta!

 

Blind and low vision GTT Grande Prairie participants meet bi-monthly to share their experiences using assistive technologies in their everyday lives at school, work, or at home.

 

Agenda for the May 2016 Grande Prairie GTT Meeting:

Location: CNIB Office, Grande Prairie, 218-9804 100 Ave

Time: Friday, May 6, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Theme: how to use Facebook on your iOS device.

 

RSVP is a must as the CNIB building is locked after hours, so please contact Bobby Weir if you are attending.

780-539-4719 or Bobby.Weir@CNIB.ca

 

Topics:

  • Siri and Facebook
  • How to use Siri to post a new status on Facebook
  • How to use dictation to type status updates on Facebook
  • How to access and configure Notifications.
  • How to Like, Comment and Share the posts of others.
  • How to find friends and how to categorize them into family, friends or acquaintance lists.

How to find, join and participate in groups on Facebook

 

Who Should Attend?

  • Any blind or low vision person, regardless of age, who is interested in learning about the accessibility features of their computer, smart phone or other blindness related technology.
  • Existing users of assistive technology who have questions or want to share your experience.
  • Anyone interested in contributing to the future of the Grande Prairie GTT group by sharing ideas for future meetings to discuss other blind or low vision assistive devices.

 

For more information contact Nikita Phillips:

Email: GTT.GrandePrairie@Gmail.com Phone: 1-780-832-3535

 

++GTT Halifax Invitation, May 3, 2016:

The Halifax based Access & Awareness NS Chapter of the CCB will be holding its’ third GTT session on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016 from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria annex at the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority (APSEA), 5944 South St., Halifax. This session will again involve exchanging knowledge, tips, general information and ideas regarding any technologies used by us in our daily lives. In particular, this session will focus on the iPad, used by those who are blind or who have low vision. Bring your device(s) with you and be prepared to learn and to help others learn by exchanging our knowledge and information including information about new and upcoming apps.

 

All are welcome. This session is free! So that we will know the number of attendees expected, please register by emailing Pat Gates at patricia.gates@bellaliant.net or leave a phone message at 902-422-7758. See you there!

 

++New Graduate studies Master’s program in English at University of Montreal:

We are pleased to announce a new option in the Master of Science program. This option, offered in English by the School of Optometry at the University of Montreal, is called Visual Impairment & Rehabilitation.

 

This program produces professionals who provide rehabilitation services to people of all ages who are blind or who have low vision. There are three concentrations (or tracks) in the program, enabling one to specialize in Low Vision, Orientation & Mobility, or Vision Rehabilitation Therapy.

 

The first English cohort will begin the program in September, 2016. Given the very recent approval of the program, we will work with potential candidates to accelerate the admission process. Anyone who is interested in applying should contact the University as soon as possible.

 

++Tournaments Updated

Canadian Council of the Blind is pleased to announce that the CCB Mail-o-Gram Bowling Tournament and the CCB Mail-o-Gram Cribbage Tournament have both been renamed to bring these tournaments into the current age of technology.

Therefore, effective immediately, the bowling tournament will now be called the CCB Email Bowling Tournament and the cribbage tournament will be known as the CCB Email Cribbage Tournament going into the future.

++2016 CCB Email Cribbage Tournament:

 

The 2016 Email Cribbage Tournament is about to begin!

 

Your Chapter must be registered on or before Sunday, May 1, 2016. The closing date for the tournament is Friday, May 27, 2016.

 

To register and receive the necessary forms please contact:

Bill Rizzo, Chair, National Tournaments

Phone: 613-549-6196         E-mail : bill.rizzo@sympatico.ca

 

Information packages will be sent out to you immediately, following your request.

++2016 CCB Email Bowling Tournaments to take place in October

 

The 2016 Email Bowling Tournaments have been postponed until October 2016. Watch for exact dates and additional information in upcoming coming newsletters.

 

Assistive Technology

 

++A Lot More Needs to Be Done to Help Blind People Use the Internet:

 

Facebook’s new blind-friendly feature puts a small dent in a big problem.

 

For the blind, navigating the digital world can be as tricky as moving through the physical one.

Some companies have tried to make their sites easier for the world’s 39 million blind people to use. Facebook, for instance, just introduced a new image-recognition feature that lets blind users “see” photos on the site.

But blind advocates say fixes like Facebook’s don’t solve the biggest obstacles blind people face online.

“We think it’s pretty cool,” Mark Riccobono, the president of the National Federation of the Blind, told The Huffington Post. “But we get concerned about flashy technology.”

“For the average blind person, it’s not whether they know something is in a photo or not that determines whether they can do online banking, pay their bills or buy groceries,” said Riccobono, who is blind.

Even as the Internet becomes an increasingly necessary feature of modern life, much of the web is difficult for blind people to use effectively.

A range of technologies exist to help blind people navigate the web. Braille keyboards and text-to-speech programs convert text to audio, which allows blind people to consume information on the web aurally. The devices can also transform speech into text, which allows blind people to “type.” These devices often work well with thoughtfully designed websites. But they hit snags when sites have elements that aren’t clearly labelled or are incompatible with keyboard shortcuts, which blind people rely on.

“Websites that have been designed from the beginning with accessibility in mind are easy for blind people to use – they’re easy to navigate, you can jump around pretty effectively and get information as effectively as a sighted person,” Riccobono said. But, he said, many sites still have “artificial barriers” that make performing basic online tasks difficult for blind users.

One of the biggest barriers is unclear labelling. In order to describe what’s on a given webpage, text-to-speech programs comb through the source code for labels that describe the page’s elements. They then say those labels aloud.

If elements aren’t clearly labelled in the source code – if a checkout button, say, is just labelled “image” – it can make navigating the page very frustrating for users who rely on spoken descriptions to move around the site.

“If I go on an e-commerce website and put stuff in my cart, but get to the payment screen and have trouble because the checkout button’s not labelled – that’s a high degree of frustration,” Riccobono said.

Web developers can use accessibility guidelines for blind users when designing their websites. But even when they refer to those guidelines, web companies don’t always do a good job implementing them, Riccobono said.

“If you don’t test [your code] for accessibility, and a problem arises and it’s not dealt with, then the code gets launched anyway,” he said. Once finalized, it can be difficult to retrofit websites to improve accessibility.

Blind advocates have urged the Obama administration to update the Americans with Disabilities Act to include explicit standards for web accessibility for blind users. While President Barack Obama initially seemed amenable to the standards – in 2010, he named them among “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment” – last year his administration quietly postponed consideration of new web accessibility standards until 2018.

For Riccobono, updating the ADA is a necessary step toward equal access for the blind.

“We need to do in the digital world the same thing we’ve done in the physical world,” he said. “The lack of standards makes it very difficult for businesses to understand when they’ve met a high standard of accessibility.”

By Casey Williams, The Huffington Post

 

In the News

++Boston memories:

Deaf and blind runner Gaston Bédard conquers marathon:

On April 20, 2015, Aylmer, QC resident Gaston Bédard completed what many runners consider the world’s most famous race, the Boston Marathon. Bédard, 63, is blind and deaf and ran the race with his two guides, Christopher Yule and Melany Gauvin, and had his son Marc cheer him on from the sidelines.

 

The 63-year-old (62 at the time of the race) ran the race with Team with a Vision, which raises funds for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Bédard completed the race in 5:26:58.

 

To keep him on course, Bédard’s guides run with him on opposite sides while holding a tether, a plastic tube with foam gripping. Before the race, the 63-year-old has to remove his two hearing aids to prevent moisture from reaching his hearing devices which leaves him completely deaf.

Usher syndrome with retinitis pigmentosa led to Bedard’s hearing and sight loss.

 

Bédard says it took him nearly nine minutes to cross the storied start line in Hopkinton, Mass. before running 42.2K to the finish line on Boylston Street in downtown Boston.

 

Conditions were wet and cold during last year’s event, which didn’t deter Bédard and his team. Knowing that his son Marc would be waiting for him at the finish line helped Bédard push through the final 10K of the race.

 

The whole experience was a special father-son experience as the two got to experience Boston during one of its finest events of the year. Runners from around the world converge on the east coast city each year to race, which requires athletes to attain certain qualifying times, based on age and sex, to be eligible to run.

 

In 2014, the event’s 40th anniversary, Bédard ran the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon with his two guides. He achieved his goal of qualifying for Boston with a sub-five-hour marathon.

 

His motto is: “If you have good people around you, it’s amazing what you can do.”

 

The retired elementary school teacher has been a runner for much of his life. In 1981 he qualified for the Boston Marathon with a 2:51 at the Ottawa Marathon. Between 1981 and 1983, he ran sub-3:05 on five occasions including his 2:51 performance though he never raced Boston because he was a “local runner and didn’t have it on my radar.”

 

He took a decade off running before getting back into the sport in 2008.

Training led to racing four years later.

 

“I made my comeback as a deaf blind runner in May 2012, and since then I have run some 30 road races, including 2 full marathons, with sighted guides,” says Bédard.

 

The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), the organization that hosts the Boston Marathon, could not confirm whether Bédard was the first-ever deaf and blind athlete to complete the storied race.

By Tim Huebsch, Canadian Running Magazine

 

++Netflix Agrees to Offer Audio Description Tracks for the Blind on More Titles:

Many folks might take Netflix for granted: you fire up the site or the app, or grab a disc from your mailbox (yes, people still do that) and boom, you’re enjoying a movie. It’s not always so easy for blind people, however, as many popular movies and TV shows don’t come with audio description tracks. That’s about to change under the terms of a new settlement between advocacy groups for the blind and Netflix.

 

In a settlement between Netflix and the American Council of the Blind (ACB), as well as the Massachusetts-based Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB) and a blind individual, the company has agreed to make many more movies and videos offered through Netflix’s streaming and DVD rental subscriptions accessible to people who are blind by adding audio description tracks.

 

Audio description tracks are exactly what they sound like — explanations of what is appearing on screen, from physical actions to facial expressions, whether someone is wearing a chicken suit or a pin-striped suit, changes in the setting or scene and anything else that needs describing.

 

Going forward, Netflix will request audio description assets in all its new contracts with streaming content providers. For third-party content that’s already in the Netflix streaming library, the company “shall make reasonable efforts to obtain existing audio description assets” for those videos.

 

As for its original content, Netflix will provide audio description for scripted streaming content for TV and movies branded as “Netflix Original,” and for which it has the necessary rights for creating audio descriptions. If Netflix doesn’t control the audio description rights, it will “make commercially reasonable efforts to secure and offer audio description.”

 

If there’s an original title that offers audio description already, Netflix will have within 30 days of the launch date of that title to offer audio description, though it will “strive” to offer those tracks at the launch of the title.

 

Netflix will make these changes across the Netflix streaming website for browsers that use HTML5 video, applications for all Applicable Devices, and “any other Netflix platform that supports audio description.”

 

For DVD subscribers, Netflix “shall make commercially reasonable efforts” to offer discs that are equipped with audio descriptions on videos from third-parties, “whenever such videos are available.”

 

It’s not just the titles themselves that will be more convenient for blind customers, either: Netflix has agreed to add audio description search, and will also make its website and mobile applications accessible to individuals who are blind and use screen-reading software to navigate websites and apps.

 

“We applaud Netflix for working with us to enhance access to its services for people who are blind,” Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, said in a statement.”Movies and television are a central pillar of American culture. As television and movies are increasingly delivered through streaming and home delivery services, ensuring that the blind community receives access to this content is critical to ensure that people who are blind are integrated into modern society.”

 

Last year, Netflix agreed to include audio description tracks on one of its most popular original shows, Daredevil — which features a blind main character — after customers complained. At that time, Netflix said it would work with “studios and other content owners to increase the amount of audio description across a range of devices including smart TVs, tablets and smartphones.”

By Mary Beth Quirk

 

++Canadian Copyright Bill for the Blind in Need of Fine Tuning:

As the political world was focused on the Liberal government’s inaugural budget last month, Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, introduced his first bill as minister by quietly moving ahead with plans to reform Canadian copyright law to allow for the ratification of an international treaty devoted to increasing access to copyrighted works for the blind.

 

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty expands access for the blind by facilitating the creation and export of works in accessible formats to the more than 300 million blind and visually impaired people around the world. Moreover, the treaty restricts the use of digital locks that can impede access, by permitting the removal of technological restrictions on electronic books for the benefit of the blind and visually impaired.

 

The Canadian decision to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty is long overdue. The Conservatives announced plans to do so in last year’s budget but waited to table legislation days before the summer break and the election call. With that bill now dead, the Liberals have rightly moved quickly to revive the issue.

 

The treaty (and the Canadian bill) addresses three key issues. First, the bill establishes a new rule that permits non-profit organizations acting on behalf of persons with a print disability to reproduce copyright works in accessible formats without the need for permission from the copyright holder. This ensures that more accessible works will be created and distributed in Canada.

 

Second, once an accessible version of the work is created, the bill also allows the non-profit organization to make it available upon request to persons with print disabilities in other countries that are part of the treaty. With many countries signing on, this approach offers the potential to significantly increase the availability of accessible works with exchanges across borders.

 

Third, the bill amends the overly restrictive digital lock rules enacted in the 2012 copyright reforms. The Conservative government claimed that an exception for the blind addressed concerns that the law could create significant access restrictions, but the reforms represent a tacit admission that the exception is ineffective.

Interestingly, the same restrictive language is used in an exception designed to address privacy concerns, suggesting that further copyright reforms are needed.

 

While the introduction of the bill represents an excellent first step, upcoming committee hearings offer the opportunity to fine tune the Canadian approach, which is more restrictive than required by the treaty. For example, the Canadian bill envisions the possibility of establishing additional fees payable by the non-profit organization to copyright collectives. The Marrakesh Treaty does not require adding royalty payments and many countries (including the United States) do not have such a provision.

 

The Canadian approach to exporting accessible works to other countries is also unnecessarily complex. The export exception does not apply to works that are “commercially available” “within a reasonable time and for a reasonable price” in the other country.

 

The limitation seems likely to create uncertainty and legal risks for those using the exception, creating the danger that some organizations may be reticent about exporting works for fear of running afoul of the law. The limitation is not found in proposed implementing legislation developed by international groups representing libraries and those with print disabilities.

 

Despite its shortcomings, the decision to focus on the world’s first user rights treaty sends a strong signal that the government recognizes the importance of ensuring that the law does not unduly restrict access to copyright works. With the Marrakesh Treaty nearly reaching the 20 ratifications necessary to take effect, the government must move quickly if it wants Canada to stand as one of the original group of ratifying countries.

By Michael Geist.

 

++The Blind Leading the Blind: How Berkeley Alums Are Designing an Inclusive World:

 

Joshua Miele has been blind ever since a violent acid attack took away his vision before his 5th birthday. But he says he no longer spends time wishing he could see. Instead, from his office at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, he dreams up new technologies for the blind, and helps turn those visions into reality: maps that can talk, YouTube videos that can speak, electronic gloves that can text.

 

As is true for many blind people, his iPhone has become as vital to navigation as his cane. These days, anyone with an iPhone can use VoiceOver to read texts on a touch-screen out loud or use voice commands to ask Siri, a personal assistant program, to send messages or get directions to the nearest sushi bar. An app is capable of telling visually impaired people what color pants they’re wearing; another tells then how much money is in their wallets.

 

Yet despite the fact that the blind and visually impaired can now navigate more efficiently than ever before, their unemployment rate is still at 62 percent, according to the National Federation for the Blind. In other words, among all adults actively looking for work, only about 2 out of 5 have jobs.

 

A community of blind technologists around the Bay Area are out to improve not only those employment numbers, but also the quality of life for people who share their situation. Many, like Miele, passed through UC Berkeley and—during their time at the first university in the country to offer a student-led program for disabled students, in a city that helped pioneer the Disability Rights Movement—they gained a new sense of inspiration and empowerment, and the technical skills to help enhance the lives of other people with sight challenges.

 

When he applied to Cal in 1987, however, that wasn’t Miele’s plan. He wasn’t even aware of Berkeley’s storied history. He just wanted to get away from suburban New York and study physics.

 

“I wanted to spread my little blind wings,” Miele recalls. “I didn’t know anything about the social dynamics of Berkeley. All I knew was that it was a huge campus and it had an element named after it.”

 

Back then, blind and visually impaired students would spend hours working in a windowless underground room in Moffett Library nicknamed “the Cave.” They would typically study with their “readers”—people who would read books aloud to them while they took meticulous notes in Braille. It was there that Miele had his blind awakening.

 

“I met awesome blind people who were just kicking ass,” he says. “They were cool about being blind. They were having interesting conversations about it.”

 

After 18 years of trying to keep low-key about his blindness, he started to embrace it as a cool component of himself. Or, as he puts it, “I basically went to college and got Blind Pride.”

 

One semester short of finishing his physics degree, he took time off to work for Berkeley Systems, a startup that made the Macintosh computer accessible to blind people. “I realized that I might never be a brilliant physicist, but I would make a much bigger contribution by getting involved in the accessibility world,” Miele says. “I had something to contribute there, and I was smart enough to help guide things in the right direction.

It was cool, it was fun, and it was very important to me.”

 

He later returned to UC Berkeley to wrap up his physics degree and earn a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics. His goal: to study hearing and garner inspiration for designing better audio features for computers.

 

Now, much of his work at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute involves making gadgets and programs talk. Take YouTube, for instance. Of the hundreds of millions of hours of YouTube videos out there, few include audio descriptions. Miele came up with YouDescribe: Now people who sign on to YouDescribe can find the video they want, pause the video, and record their own descriptions of it. Blind people can now find and listen to this growing collection of YouDescribe-enhanced videos in which recorded voices tell them what they can’t see. Among the selections: videos depicting how to make green tea and chocolate waffles, how to explain Donald Trump to kids, and how to interpret guinea pig noises.

 

“Well, yes, I want blind people to build goofy robots. But I want blind kids to have the same opportunities for science—the same opportunities for learning—as sighted kids.”

 

Miele, who has black curly hair and skin that still bears the scars left by the acid, lights up when he talks about his Blind Arduino Project. “You know how the maker movement is a big thing now? You know how every 2-year-old is making robots now?” he asks. “So, there’s a lot of ways to make robots, but one of the most popular ways is with a platform called Arduino.”

 

Arduino is a tiny programmable computer, about the size of a deck of cards, that uses software that allows users to write code that can interact with the world through electronic sensors, lights, and motors. Tinkerers and hackers have used Arduino to make LEDs blink, program robots to move around, and Tweet at coffee pots to get them to make a fresh brew. The operating principle: Through Arduino, blind people gain an affordable tool to make even more accessible technology for themselves.

 

“So I started this thing called the Blind Arduino Blog, a project for documenting and disseminating ways blind people can work with Arduino independently, and for documenting the types of things blind people might want to build that they can’t find,” Miele explains. He believes that if more blind kids felt included in the maker movement, there would be more blind kids dreaming of being physicists. “I don’t just want blind people to be able to build goofy robots,” Miele says. “Well, yes, I want blind people to build goofy robots. But I want blind kids to have the same opportunities for science—the same opportunities for learning—as sighted kids.”

 

He’s also concerned with the everyday challenges blind people face just getting around. That’s why he collaborated with the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco to create accessible maps of every BART transit station.

 

“It’s this kind of accessibility that I get excited about,” Miele says. “It seems basic, and it is. But that’s why it’s exciting, because we don’t have the kind of ready access to basic information we want.”

 

He discovered that making an accessible map—complete with Braille, large print, and audio—is also really complicated. For the audio element, Miele adapted a LiveScribe smartpen, a pen designed to record audio and notes. He uses it to read off information on the map. When he taps the pen on the map, the pen reads out information, like ticket fares and which buses come to which stop.

 

Next he designed an accessible periodic table, the kind he never got to see when he studied chemistry in high school. He taps on the square, and the pen reads off the name of an element. He taps again, and this time it’s atomic weight. The more he taps, the more information pours sonically out of the pen. From there, he just kept going—making an accessible sudoku, an accessible eyeball, an accessible nerve.

 

These days, Lighthouse, the San Francisco nonprofit Miele partnered with to make his maps, has turned into something of a tactile-map-making factory.

 

The Lighthouse produces accessible floor plans for dormitories, and maps of parks, transit systems, and campuses including UC Berkeley.

 

But Lighthouse CEO Bryan Bashin cautions that although these sophisticated technological breakthroughs are vital, employment prospects for the blind and visually impaired remain grim.

 

“What I’ve learned is that there are a lot of blind people with a mountain of technology at home [who] go nowhere because it’s necessary but not sufficient,” he says. “What we need as blind people is a sense of the possible. The challenge is to find ways to motivate blind people, beyond putting hunks of iron on their table. How do we install the improbable belief that, yeah, you can go to work, you can support your family, you can be a source of giving to the community as well as receiving?”

 

That’s why Lighthouse does more than make innovative gadgets. Lighthouse also gives skills training and counseling services, and it’s a place where blind people can meet other blind people.

By Holly J. McDede

Happy May!