Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Technology for Accessibility

Accessibility and inclusion are huge topics among the Tech community these days.  Technology has reached a point where it can truly impact how a person with a disability lives their lives on a daily basis.  Between apps and built-in features on smartphones, these hand held devices could mean more accessibility for more people everywhere.  This article from USA Today by Edward C. Baig not only gives an example of an amazing smartphone user climbing mountains with an app that connects to his hearing aide, it tells us all about the features on both the iPhone and Android that can help its users be handi-capable.

Don't Let a Disability Stop You from Using Your Smartphone
By: Edward C. Baig

NEW YORK — As an expert mountain climber who guides clients at night up Mount Rainier in Washington state, Win Whittaker knows how critical it is to be able to listen for falling rock.

Only Whittaker is hard of hearing, having gradually lost his hearing through the years because of the time he spent in a rock 'n' roll band and around fireworks.

So Whittaker now climbs while wearing ReSound LiNX2 hearing aids, which he controls via apps on his iPhone 5s and Apple Watch.

"I'm not sure how I got by without having the hearing aids because it's a crucial part of my job in keeping us all safe on the mountain," he says.

A quarter of a century ago, when the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, the idea that we'd all be carrying smartphones (and some of us wearing smartwatches), much less scaling mountains with them, would have seemed unfathomable. It would have been even more remarkable to think back then that people with a variety of physical impairments — poor vision, motor disabilities, hearing loss — would be getting the same rich experiences from such devices.

The United Nations' World Health Organization says more than 1 billion people, 15% of the global population, have some form of disability. And whether you identify with a particular disability or not, as you age you likely don't hear or see quite like you used to.

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently tweeted, "Accessibility rights are human rights. Celebrating 25yrs of the ADA we're humbled to improve lives with our products. #ADA25."

Apple and Google have baked strong accessibility tools into the iOS and Android ecosystems, respectively. While some tools are meant to complement third-party devices, from hearing aids to Braille keyboards, many just make the phones themselves easier to use. Some features we all enjoy — think Google Now, Siri, and auto-correction — weren't designed with accessibility in mind, though they can lend an assist just the same.

Here's an overview of accessibility features found in both platforms.

To start: On iPhone, tap Settings on the home screen, then General, thenAccessibility; on Android, go to Settings, scroll down to System Settings and tap Accessibility.

Keep in mind that though a core accessibility framework is built into Android, the open nature of the software platform means that features will vary from device to device, and you may have to work a little harder to find tools that are already part of iOS. The positive: Android accessibility is open to developers.

I've been examining accessibility features on a Google Nexus 6 phone running Android Lollipop and an iPhone 6 Plus running iOS 8.

Obviously, if you or a loved one have a specific accessibility need, go beyond the tools I'll mention here, and search Apple's App Store or the Google Play Store for apps designed specially to help with given disabilities or diseases. Pay attention to tutorials because not every accessibility feature is intuitive.

Here are some useful tools:

For users who are blind or visually-impaired: On the iPhone, you can summon a VoiceOver feature that speaks aloud the items on the screen. You can drag a slider to alter the speaking speed, and even change the accent or language of the screen reader voice (U.S. English, Australian English, Irish English, South African English). In all, VoiceOver is available in more than 30 languages.

The rough equivalent on the Nexus 6 Android is called TalkBack. Under TalkBack, you'll have to master certain gestures to navigate the device.

On Android and the iPhone, you can turn on a Zoom feature to magnify the screen via various gestures, double-tapping with three fingers on the iPhone, triple-tapping the screen with the Nexus.

Other switches let you invert the colors on the display almost like a film negative — on Android this color inversion feature is labeled "experimental" since it can affect the phone's performance. Another experimental feature on Android can compensate for color blindness. On the iPhone, you choose a grayscale setting that eliminates colors altogether.

You can also take advantage of larger and/or bolder text.

For the hard of hearing: Apple has partnered with manufacturers on so-called Made for iPhone Hearing Aids with no "intermediary" remote control or additional accessory required. The ReSound LiNX2 used by Whittaker is one of them. Still, the ReSound and just about all the Bluetooth-powered hearing aids out there work on Android as well.

Even if you don't wear a hearing aid, there are tools that may lend a hand (or ear).

On the iPhone, for example, the LED can flash when an alert comes in, a feature that kicks in when the phone is locked or asleep. If you've lost your hearing in one ear, you can flip on a mono audio setting that combines the left and right channels, so that both can be heard through headphones.

On both platforms, you can turn on close-captioning or subtitles.

(Photo: Apple)

Other tools: A Guide Access tool on the iPhone can limit use to a single app or restrict touch aspects to certain parts of the screen. This might help parents of an autistic child who has difficulty maintaining focus.

Another iOS setting, called Switch Control, allows you to use the phone by sequentially highlighting items on the screen that can be activated through an adaptive accessory such as an external Bluetooth-controlled switch, used by people with severe paralysis or manual dexterity issues. Sometime you can use the device screen or FaceTime camera to trigger a switch. The Android alternative is called Switch Access. Depending on the level of the disability, single switches or multiple switches might be used.

Despite all the major progress that has been made in accessibility there's more that needs to be done. Eve Anderson, Google's manager of accessibility engineering, says the exploration into "cognitive impairment is behind everything else." That covers everything from ADHD to dementia.

For now, Chicago-area firefighter Steve DeLuca, who also wears a ReSound hearing aid with an iPhone 5s — he experienced hearing loss after a brain tumor — uses his phone a lot.

"I listen to music, when I run I use it, when I watch YouTube videos on my phone, it's all going through my hearing aid," he says. "Everything you do on your phone, I do the same thing, except that I'm hearing it through my hearing aid."

Follow this link for the full article along with a short video.

Friday, March 25, 2016

TedX Talk: How Digital Navigation Systems Will Create Universal Access

A great perspective on where accessibility can go with universal technology!  A very interesting talk on the future of design technology that is inclusive and usable for the broadest range of people.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Global Messenger for the Special Olympics of Virginia Shares Her Story

One of our clients recently presented a speech at John Rolfe Middle School as a Global Messenger for the Special Olympics of Virginia.  In her speech, she speaks to her the challenges that she’s faced and her passion to overcome them.  We couldn’t think of a better way to represent her than through her own words!

"Hi!! my name is Emily Bower.  I want to thank you for having me speak here for team excel at John Rolfe middle school. Today, I want to convey my message of how I got involved with Special Olympics Virginia, why I wanted to become a global messenger, and what the campaign to end the r-word means to me. 

While I was an intern at TechAccess, 5 years ago I met my current work coach, Pam Russell, through the choice group. It was through her that I got the opportunity to interview for a position as an office assitant at Special Olympics Virginia or, what we commonly call SOVA. Guess who got the job?!  At the time, I didn't know much about Special Olympics except that they play sports. Did you know that Special Olympics is a worldwide organization of 4 and 1/2 million athletes, and over 21 thousand of those athletes participate in Virginia? Sometimes people ask me “when is the Special Olympics held?” well, I usually answer by telling them that special Olympics is year round. The fact is, events within the state, are held throughout the year. There are 2,500 events held in Virginia alone!! to me, this is pretty amazing!  
While I was working at SOVA during my fourth year, I was  given the opportunity to interview for a position as a global messenger. again, guess who got the job?  I was excited about this! Two big reasons why I wanted to become a global messenger were 1. to help spread the word about all the greats things that Special Olympics does and 2. I wanted to tell my own personal story. Just to fill you in on a little of that story; in school, I was constantly bullied. I may not have been called the derogatory word “retard”, but I do know what it’s like to be called names that are mean, and hurtful. I think the biggest challenge for me, other than being bullied, was not knowing how to speak up about how these names affected me. The same applied for hearing others being called the r-word. 

Many people don’t realize the effect that their words have on others. Words like that are extremely hurtful, and can really damage a person’s self-esteem. And, in addition, people who use the r-word could be seen as uncaring, lacking feeling, and a bully!! Who wants to be seen that way?? that’s why I'm speaking with you, today. 

Remember, knowledge is power! 

I ended up leaving the public school system in the middle of the 6th grade. My parents and many doctors could see something was not right. Not long after that, I learned that I had an anxiety disorder. That was a really tough year for me! By the middle of that year, I was transferred to Northstar Academy. Northstar is a small private school for people who have learning disabilities. I really liked Northstar because it was a smaller setting and the teachers helped the students, individually. There was also a common respect among the students for each other. 

After I graduated in 2005, I went through a 13th year at Douglas Southall Freeman High School. Being back in the public school system was a lot easier than when I was in the 6th grade! I graduated from Freeman and later, attended J. Sargent Reynolds for a year.  I took classes that I was interested in like History, English, and Psychology. The college experience wasn't something I wanted to continue long term, and decided I wanted to pursue a job, instead. When I started working at SOVA as an office assistant, I instantly made so many new friends! As I participated in various events, I found my voice! and through my voice I want to help people understand why the r-word campaign is so important. I personally know the damage that labels can do in decreasing a person's self-worth. We must all realize that banning the R word permanently will help, not just athletes on the playing field, but all of us! We all become more compassionate for one another!! 

I am thankful to SOVA, as it has given me the opportunity to highlight my abilities and overcome challenges. These challenges have allowed me to grow and to meet so many wonderful people. Especially, people like you!!!! And by the way, you can also be involved with SOVA! There are so many opportunities for this and you won’t regret it!!! 

Despite any challenges a person may have, we all have our inner beacon of light 
that is meant to be shared with others.  Share your light by making a pledge to ban the r-word. You can do this by going to www.r-word.org and make your pledge. Let's make the new r-word be respect! Thank you once more for inviting me to speak. I hope by hearing me today you may want to become involved in Special Olympics as I am. My name is Emily Bower and I am a fan of special 
Olympics and the r-word campaign, forever!! "

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Make Your Next Event Accessible for Everyone

There are lots of ways that people can raise awareness about accessibility for people with disabilities, with the Spring season about to come into full swing, the best way for you to do it is at your next event!  In Richmond we love our festivals and events, so here are some tips on how to make your next event accessible for everyone.

Just like any other attendee, those with mobility devices such as a wheelchair or scooter need to access all areas of the venue.  This includes concessions, restroom facilities and the main event!  Ask the venue for their guide for the accessible traveller and encourage tips and photos in any event literature to ensure participants know what to expect.

Make sure your event website is accessible.  Have options for registration and ticketing for those with disabilities.  The Web Accessibility Initiative is a good resource for design inclusive information. 

Transportation to and from the event.  Consider any linking accessible shuttles for transportation to the event with convenient locations and clearly signed zones.  Note drivers and staff that are trained to operate lifts and assist people who are deaf, hearing impaired, blind or have low vision.

Utilize technology to ensure full participation.  Things such as real-time captioning or making assistive listening systems available will help those with hearing impairments.  Using Braille on navigation signs, or using large text for printed items can help those who are blind or have low vision.  

Quick Checklist:
-Provide information in advance for those who must plan their participation in the event.
-Train staff to use proper language.  No one wants to be labeled, using person first language recognizes the person and not the disability.

-Always ask permission before interacting with service animals. 

Having festivals and events are a great way to bring people together that have similar interests but different perspectives.  Make sure your event is accessible to all who want to attend!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ticket to Work Virtual Job Fair Today!

Attend Ticket to Work Job Fair March 16th!

The Ticket to Work program will host its next Virtual Job Fair on March 16, 2016,
from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET.

The job fair is sponsored by Social Security and will connect you to companies that
work with the government. These companies have job openings for individuals with
many different skill and experience levels and are particularly interested in hiring
qualified people with disabilities.

The participating employers will have job openings in one or more of the following
locations: New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico.

Current Ticket to Work Participants
If you are using your Ticket to receive services from an approved Employment
Network (EN) or your State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency, and are ready
to work, you should register for the fair!

Contact your EN or State VR agency to find out how to register for the Virtual Job
Fair or if you have questions about this event. By participating in the fair, you can:
   - Talk with job recruiters online via chat forums and one-on-one messages.
􀀀   - Visit virtual resource booths to ask questions about job accommodations, Social Security Work Incentives and legal issues that sometimes create barriers to work for people with disabilities.

Not sure if you’re a Ticket to Work participant?
If you're not sure if you have or are using your Ticket or if you need help finding an
EN or state VR agency, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842
(V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Assistive Technology
If you use assistive technology, the Virtual Job Fair environment will be screenreader

Engineering at Home: Create Solutions for Everyday Tasks

     There's the saying that necessity is the mother of all invention.  In Cindy's case, just like so many others with a physical disability, this could not be more true.  Her experience led to the creation of Engineering at Home with the help of the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusets.  She has created a number of solutions to meet lots of everyday needs of people with disabilities through creative and easy adaptations.  Some of her DIY engineerings include custom tools for grasping, pinching, lifting, buttoning, pouring, eating, you name it!

Engineering at Home Hopes to Help People with Disabilities Create Their Own Custom Tools
from MedGadget.com

A new website has been setup to help people with disabilities create tools that will improve their daily lives. Engineering at Home is a resource that was inspired by a woman named Cindy who lost her legs and some fingers on her hands due to amputations necessitated by a terrible reaction to medication given to her post cardiac infarct. Having suffered through such a terrible event, Cindy, an unlikely engineer, began building simple tools that help her overcome everyday challenges.

Two faculty professors and some of their students at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA were inspired by Cindy’s story. They were impressed by her approach, the way she saw challenges and noticed simple and easy-to-build solutions that have helped her lead a normal life. The Olin College team decided to build on Cindy’s work and make it accessible to others around the world living through similar challenges.

The Engineering at Home website now host a couple dozen “adaptations,” clever applications of common products, that Cindy has created on her own. These are meant to be copied by others for their and to serve as inspiration for building tools that serve disabled people’s unique needs.

Read more about Cindy and check out EngineeringatHome.org

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Job Training for Transition-Age Students

What a great concept! While we don't have any mock stores in Virginia, The Choice Group offers on-site training to get our clients comfortable with any of their job requirements!  Just check out our amazing success story with Nick Barker!  He though he could never work the register, and now he trains others how to do it!

For Transition-Age Students, Mock Store Offers Job Training
By: Sandra Stokley on DisabilityScoop.com

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – For 20-year-old Jasmin Vega, folding shirts and stacking them on a shelf appeals to her innate sense of order.

“I get them and they are all in a jumble,” Vega said. “I enjoy making them neat.”

Vega is one of the special education students learning real-world retail skills in a mock CVS store at the Riverside Unified School District’s Adult School campus.

The store – the only mock CVS on the West Coast – is a replica of a neighborhood CVS, complete with a front counter and cash register; magazine rack; shopping carts; shelves stocked with toothpaste, toilet paper and other household items; circular clothing racks; and a red neon “Open” sign in the front window. Its grand opening was Jan. 28.

The store serves as a laboratory to teach retail skills to the 52 students enrolled in the Riverside district’s Project T.E.A.M., said Constance Wahlin, project specialist/site administrator.

T.E.A.M, which stands for Transitional Education Adjustment Model, offers job training for students with developmental disabilities ages 19-22. The program then works with the Inland Regional Center to find the students jobs, Wahlin said.

While on duty at the mock store, students learn the basics of stocking shelves, pricing products, operating a cash register, bagging items and how to display items in an appealing way.

They are evaluated periodically on such skills and others such as hanging shirts, displaying hanging and folded shirts and making change.

This spring, middle and high school students with developmental disabilities can work in the store as part of their life skills class, Wahlin said.

The mock store resulted from a close working relationship between Wahlin’s staff and Rebecca Martinez, CVS Health’s enterprise disability consultant.

Martinez said that although all school district employees are committed to their students with disabilities, “Riverside Unified has a very special team working with disabled students.”

“They have an extraordinary commitment,” Martinez said by phone from her Long Beach office. “I knew they were the ideal team to put this project together.”

CVS Health donated shelves and fixtures, products and money to get the project going. Anthony Collier, CVS Health district manager for Riverside County, offered guidance, Martinez said.

A Riverside Educational Enrichment Foundation grant paid for shopping carts, office supplies and the front counter. The school district provided the portable building that houses the store and the cash register.

Photo credit Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

Thursday, March 3, 2016

VCU Paralympic Experience Day

The Center for Sport Leadership, a graduate program at Virginia Commonwealth University, is teaming up with Sportable to host the VCU Paralympic Experience Day on Friday, April 15, 2016! The event will take place from 5-8 pm at the Stuart C. Siegel Center located at 1200 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA.

Sportable, a non-profit sports organization, works with physically and visually disabled athletes to give them opportunities to participate in sports. Sportable exists to transform the lives of people with physical and visual disabilities through sport!

This event will showcase a wide variety of adaptive sports including wheelchair basketball, goalball, sitting volleyball, power soccer, and more! This event exists to provide an opportunity for all of members of our community to participate together in a variety of adaptive sports, regardless of ability level. Please join us in trying out new sports, talking with current Sportable athletes, and hearing from special guest speakers from the adaptive sports community

We welcome all ages and abilities and encourage those with physical or visual disabilities to come out and play! Don’t want to play or are just interested in learning? No problem, come out and watch the athletes compete! It is FREE to attend and will include snacks/refreshments and some special guest speakers!

For more information please e-mail sportableday2016@gmail.com

To sign up for the event, click here! Or for updates, check out their Facebook Page.