CONFERENCE: Envision Conference 2008

Posted on 17 April 2008. Filed under: Announcements, Events and Conferences, Opportunities | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Envision Conference 2008
Dates: 09/04/2008 – 09/07/2008

Date(s): September 5 – 6, 2008

Location: Westin Riverwalk Hotel, San Antonio, TX, USA

The Envision Conference is a multi-disciplinary low vision rehabilitation and research conference. Every year, hundreds of professionals in the low vision rehabilitation field come together to advance the state of the art in low vision rehabilitation. Attendees earn continuing education units, learn new skills, network and share current research in the field.

The conference will feature four tracks of continuing education, workshops, research and poster presentations. The exhibit hall will feature vendors from all over the country displaying the latest in technology and services in vision rehabilitation as well as book publishers and optometric suppliers.

Proposals for presentations are being accepted through April 30, 2008. Speakers will receive reimbursement for registration, hotel, and travel costs.

Past conferences have had participants from six countries; conference organizers hope that participants from Latin America will find it easier to travel to this year’s location.

For more information visit the Envision Conference web site.

http://www.envisionconference.org



Thank you to Dr. David Kamerer for submitting this announcement to We Can Do.

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NEWS: AIR Foundation Committed to Making Web Universally Accessible for Blind, Low-Vision People

Posted on 19 February 2008. Filed under: Announcements, Blind, News, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Nonprofit Launched to Bring Free Accessibility Worldwide

The AIR Foundation committed to ‘accessibility is a right’

Orlando, Florida – January 31, 2008 – The AIR Foundation, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA was announced today at a press conference held during the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2008 National Conference at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando, Florida. The mission of the foundation is to promote universal accessibility so that every blind and low-vision person in the world has access to digital information over the Internet and Worldwide Web.

The foundation’s executive director, Art Schreiber, also announced that the organization’s first offering will be free usage of a Web 2.0 accessible screen reader. The product is provided through an exclusive license in perpetuity granted to The AIR Foundation from Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of Internet and digital information accessibility software and services. The screen reader is called SA To Go and is powered by Serotek’s award-winning System Access software which provides immediate text to speech, magnified visual, and Braille access to digital information presented through the Web or other means, while the user is directly connected to the Internet. The software does not remain resident on the user’s computer when the connection to the Internet is interrupted or terminated. Users can obtain access to the free software by calling 877-369-0101 or visiting www.AccessibilityIsaRight.org http://www.accessibilityisaright.org/

“The basic tenet of The AIR Foundation is that accessibility is a fundamental human right, regardless of financial or geographic constraints” said Art Schreiber, executive director of The AIR Foundation, “by allowing the blind and visually impaired to have equal access to computer and Internet information through the free use of an advanced screen reader like SA To Go, we have already taken great strides toward our mission.”

The AIR Foundation will solicit funds and contract development of product enhancements including availability in other languages. The organization’s first priority is to make SA To Go available in Mandarin Chinese.

“SA To Go is highly intuitive and requires minimal training to use,” said Serotek CEO, Mike Calvo, “the user not only has access to information displayed on Web pages, but to Web-based applications such as Internet telephone service, and to applications resident on the host computer. The user can also access PDF files, fill out forms, and otherwise interact with information with the same facility as a sighted person.”

The AIR Foundation will operate through the generosity of organizations donating their time, expertise, and funds. It invites other nonprofits, assistive technology vendors, mainstream hardware and software companies and anyone interested in promoting accessibility as every person’s right, to align with the AIR team.

The AIR Foundation
The AIR Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advocate, teach, and deliver information accessibility tools. We focus on the accessibility needs of blind and low-vision people. Our mantra is “accessibility is a right” and we work with corporations and agencies worldwide to deliver free accessibility to all. For more information, call 877-369-0101 or visit http://www.accessibilityisaright.org/

Serotek Corporation
Serotek Corporation is a leading technology company that develops software and manufactures accessibility solutions. Committed to the mission of providing accessibility anywhere, Serotek launched the first online community specifically designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Since then, Serotek has introduced several powerful, affordable solutions that require minimal training and investment. For more information, visit http://www.serotek.com/.



This press release was first posted at the Air Foundation web site. It has also been circulated on several on-line newsletters and mailing lists, incluing AdHoc_IDC, the DPI newsletter, and Intl-Dev.

People interested in technology for people with vision impairments may also wish to learn more about the Sightsaver’s Dolphin Pen, which is a low-cost screenreader targeted at people in developing countries, or in information about low-cost, mechanical Braille writers.



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Intl CONFERENCE on Rehab Engineering & Assistive Technology

Posted on 14 December 2007. Filed under: Announcements, Call for Papers, Events and Conferences, Rehabilitation, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Announcing i-CREATe 2008, 2nd International Convention on Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology – will take place in Bangkok, Thailand, on 13 – 15 May, 2008. Visit the i-CREATe 2008 http://www.start-centre.com/i-create2008/ for more information.

i-CREATe has a Conference element, and all accepted full conference papers will be published and indexed in the ACM Digital Library and Electronic Indexed. Selected best papers will also be included in the Special Issue of Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology Journal published by Taylor & Francis ( http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/17483107.asp). Papers and proposals can be submitted through January 31, 2008.

The inaugural i-CREATe 2007 ( http://www.start-centre.com/i-create2007) was formally launched by Her Royal Highness (HRH) Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Kingdom of Thailand, and Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), Republic of Singapore, on 24th April 2007; for i-CREATe 2008, HRH will also be gracing the event as GOH and to launch the event.

Need funding assistance to attend conferences like this one? See information on Funding for Conference Participation from Developing Nations. Be aware that for any foundation, money will be limited. This means probably only a few applicants will be able to obtain funding.


We Can Do received this conference announcement via Mr. Ghulam Nabi Nizamani, Vice Chair of DPI-AP and Co-Founder and President of SDF Pakistan. I have slightly modified it from the original.


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OPINION: One Laptop per Child—But is it Inclusive?

Posted on 16 November 2007. Filed under: Children, Cross-Disability, Education, Opinion, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Issue
Bringing laptops to children in developing countries. It’s a nifty concept, meant to help with an enormous challenge: improving the quality of education in developing countries. But is it inclusive of children with disabilities?

Even relatively casual observers of the international development field quickly learn that 77 million children worldwide are not in primary school. And perhaps you also knew that a large portion of those children have disabilities. What we don’t hear about as often is that even the 2 billion children who are fortunate enough to be able to enter a classroom, in many cases, may not be that much better off. The push to put all children in school by 2015, as per the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), has led to more schools, more teachers, and more books—but not necessarily to a better-quality education. So how do we go beyond filling seats with bodies so we can start filling heads with knowledge?

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project thinks they have part of the answer. That’s to put a laptop into the hands of every child in school in developing nations. Not just any laptop, but the XO laptop. The XO is designed specifically for child learners. It has features that allow them to create—be it a picture, a poem, a game, or a computer program. And XO laptops can communicate directly with other XO laptops if they are close enough. That allows for collaborative projects among pairs or groups of students. The laptops are also designed to be used in rugged conditions. They can be used in places where classes might meet outside in bright sunlight, or where students may have no access to electricity.

In developing countries, one of the largest barriers to obtaining resources—be it for disabled people or for their non-disabled peers—is cost. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has tackled this, at least part way, by producing a laptop that costs $200. That’s twice as much as their original goal—which was to design a $100 laptop. And that’s still out of reach for any family that lives on less than $1 a day. But it’s within reach for some country governments. Uruguay, for example, has purchased the first 100,000 XOs to come off the assembly line (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7068084.stm). And there may soon be other countries standing in line. The OLPC project has also introduced several ways that people in rich countries can help (see http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/index.php). If things grow quickly from here, we could soon see the day when millions of children are learning through XO laptops and any competitors that might later emerge.

But for children with disabilities, the question of whether someone can and will send them a laptop in the first place is only the first half of the problem. The second half is whether the laptop is even accessible to them.

XO Laptops: Are They Suitable for Young Disabled Students?
I should note here that I have not yet seen an XO laptop for myself. Nor am I an expert in the types of adaptations that are available or most needed by people who are blind, or who have mobility impaired—or, indeed, any disability other than deafness. That means I can’t give an accurate evaluation of how usable an XO laptop is for disabled children. But I can speculate. And given how large the OLCP project hopes to become, I suggest that anyone with an interest in educating disabled children in developing countries should also be speculating. More importantly, they should be sharing their insights and ideas for remedies with the OLPC project.

On the plus side, some disabled children may find that the laptops will be a tremendous boon for them. For example, the XO is sturdier and more durable than most standard, western computers. That could be an important feature for children whose disabilities affect their behavior. They might be less likely to damage the laptop if they throw it during a tantrum or a “meltdown”, for example. Or a child with mobility impairments or dyspraxia can worry less if they drop their laptop.

Also, I like how the XO laptop allows for interactive communication with other laptop users. For children who have communication-related disabilities and who have learned to read and write, it might make communication with their non-disabled peers a little easier. Instead of being forced to talk or read lips in a modality that works poorly for them–if at all–they could have the option of typing back and forth with their classmates or the teacher. This could be especially helpful in situations where no sign language interpreter is available, which is frequently the case in developing countries. I don’t think the XO will ever be a substitute for more appropriate educational placements. (I believe that most deaf children should be in good quality, specialized schools for deaf children. But that’s a subject for another blog post.) But for deaf children who have been thrust into classrooms with no means of understanding their teacher, the laptop could potentially become a tool for teaching themselves, perhaps with the aid of their peers.

But even deaf children, if they are learning alongside hearing peers, may feel left out when their classmates start playing around with the built-in microphone and other auditory-based features. And other disabled children may find the XO laptops to be so inaccessible as to be useless. I suspect that blind children and some children with low vision—as with most computers generally—may suffer the most significant barriers. From what I can gather from their web site, the XO seems to have a very visual interface. That’s great for sighted deaf children, but bad for blind children. There seems to be no provision for screen readers of any kind: a blind child could still type but would have no way to monitor what they are typing or to read it back later. And unless there is some audio feature that I didn’t read about, the heavy graphics would be meaningless to them. That might make it harder for a child with vision impairments to interact with other students in the class. If I understand correctly, a child who wants to work on a project with someone else through the XO needs to bring up an icon representing their classmate and click it.

I also wonder about children with certain mobility impairments, particularly those that affect the use of their hands. As far as I can tell from the OLPC web site, there are no modified keyboards available. In other words, one design fits all—even when it doesn’t. And it’s not just the keyboard that might pose a problem. One of the ways to power up an XO is to either pull on a cord or operate a foot pump—either of which might be problematic for children with certain mobility impairments. What if a child could operate one type of battery re-charger but not the other? If a country buys all of its laptops in one variety, a child may not have the option of switching to equipment that is more usable for them.

Why Inclusion Matters–From the Beginning
Children with disabilities already face enormous barriers in even reaching the classroom. And many face even more barriers inside it. The XO laptop is meant to help bring the world of learning to poor children in developing nations. But for many children with disabilities, the XO laptop, as currently designed, may create new barriers to learning instead of removing them. What is especially worrying to me is that nowhere in their web site does OLPC even acknowledge the problem much less discuss what they’re doing to resolve it. (Or if they do and I missed it, tell me in the comments area below—their site is at www.laptop.org.)

The usual excuse made when a new project excludes disabled people, is, “But we’re new. We’re just starting. We had to start somewhere. We’re not ready for doing anything more specialized right now.” There are two major problems with accepting this type of excuse. First is the issue of justice. People with disabilities have always been the last people to gain access to any new technology or service. As soon as one technology is finally made at least partly accessible, something new has become mainstream to everyone else—but, once again, not for disabled people. By the time innovative deaf people in rich countries finally managed to invent a way to access telephones, for example, all their hearing, middle-class neighbors had color television–while deaf people were, once again, waiting. The delay between the time a new technology or service becomes available to non-disabled people and the time it becomes available to disabled people, in and of itself, creates barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in society. There will always be something new. And, even with advancing medical technology, there will probably always be disabled people. We will only be fully included in society when new things, too, are accessible to us from the first day they become available to the public at wide. After all, aren’t we, too, supposed to be members of the public?

The second problem with accepting the “but it’s new, give us time” excuse is that this is backwards thinking. It is PRECISELY BECAUSE a technology or project is new that the people designing it SHOULD be thinking from the start about the needs of people with disabilities. Suppose you construct a building with stairs and no ramps, then you tear part of it down in order to add the ramps years later, that’s expensive. If you remember the needs of people with disabilities while you’re still working in the blueprint stage then you can make sure it has ramps to begin with, and you can integrate the ramps into the design in a way that saves money. That’s very, very cheap. If you build 100,000 computers for Uruguay with no screen readers, and then belatedly construct a few separate devices to be attached to them later as needed, that’s expensive.

But what if they had given consideration to the needs of blind or dyslexic students, or children with other disabilities, from the beginning? Yes, it probably would have been an enormous challenge to find a way to integrate their needs into the standard design of the XO laptop without significantly increasing its cost. But if they had at least tried—even if they had tried and failed—then if nothing else, we could have been a good five years of research and development closer to achieving an XO that does succeed in including disabled children. And not only that, but it might have been cheaper than whatever add-on fix they come up with now. Or, even if they hadn’t come up with a concept that could be integrated into the standard design, they might at least have come up with design elements that make it easier to add on a fix later. What if they come up with a nice, cheap screen reader, only to find that there isn’t a good way to plug it into the existing XO laptops?

Or perhaps they could have come up with creative design elements that help, not only disabled students, but everyone. After all, curb cuts were implemented for wheelchair riders, but were quickly embraced by non-disabled parents with prams or baby carriages. Closed captions were invented to enable deaf people in rich countries to watch television, but have also been embraced by hearing immigrants learning the language of their new home. Speech recognition software for computers was invented, at least in part, for people who cannot type with their hands, but has been embraced by others as well. What kind of XO would we have had today if they hadn’t thrown away five years of opportunity to find out?

Owning the Issue
Two groups of people need take responsibility for ensuring that the built in exclusion of disabled children in developing countries does not last. First are the people operating the One Laptop Per Child project. If they’re serious about bringing laptops to all two billion children in school, then they would do well to remember that about 10 percent of the world’s population—including children in developing countries—have disabilities. They need to decide whether “all” will truly mean “all,” or if “all” really means “all except disabled children because they’re too difficult to include.”

The obligation doesn’t end with the One Laptop Per Child project, but it does begin with them: they need to be proactive. To start with, they should reach out to organizations of disabled adults and children in developing countries to share the laptop with them and find out exactly what problems they face in using it. They can begin with some of the organizations listed in “Finding Local Disability Organizations” for possible contacts. They should be talking with disabled adults, because people who have already been adapting to their own disabilities for a whole lifetime often see obvious solutions that elude everybody else. And they should be talking with parents and teachers who may notice barriers that even disabled users miss. But most importantly of all, they should be talking with disabled children in developing countries—because the best person to tell us what a disabled child needs is a disabled child.

Also, they should mention the problem of accessibility for children with disabilities throughout their web site, where appropriate. In particular, where they recruit volunteers, they should be specifically asking for people who can help make the laptop more usable for children with a wide range of disabilities. But even in other parts of their web site, for example where they talk about its design features and their future design plans, they can acknowledge its existing limitations and explain how they hope to overcome them. Possibly they could also have a separate page devoted to the topic of accessibility—but this is not a substitute for integration. “Add-on” issues rarely get the attention they deserve: if it’s important, then the organization’s concern for the issue should reverberate through everything they say and do.

Second are people around the world who are already committed to bringing more disabled children in developing countries into the classroom and giving them a high-quality education. That means parents, educators, disabled advocates, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other interested parties. People who have direct experience with the XO laptop can give their feedback to the One Laptop Per Child project. Others can review their web site and offer their advice or consultation services.

I think the One Laptop Per Child program is a good concept and a good cause worth supporting—even with its current flaws. That’s exactly why I urge them to become a more inclusive cause as well. I hope they listen—and take action.

Nicholas Negroponte and the other staff at OLPC: it’s over to you, now.


The facts, figures, and information behind the opinions expressed in this essay come from a range of sources. Most particularly I drew upon the OLPC web site, but you will also note that I link to a number of other sources throughout this article.

Edited 17 Nov. ’07 to add: Eduardo Silva points out (thank you for alerting me) that interested readers can go to http://wiki.laptop.org to see some of the software work that is being done to improve the XO laptop. And as Eduardo Silva indicates, they are indeed working on a text-to-voice screen reader, which you can read about at http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Screen_Reader. However, I still have some concerns about this which I elaborate upon further in the comments area below.

Edited 31 Dec. ’07 to add: I wonder if a Sightsaver’s Dolphin Pen would help blind children make better use of the XO. Is there anyone reading this who is familiar with BOTH the XO AND with the Dolphin Pen (a low-cost screen reader and screen magnifier designed for use in low-income countries)? If so, I would value your input. Please do comment in the comments area below.

Edited 5 Jan. ’08 to add: THANK YOU to the anonymous contributer in the comments area below who led me to the accessibility mailing list for people who want to brainstorm ideas and solutions on how to make the XO more accessible.


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