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Online Petition Asks President Bush to Sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

June 6, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I have just finished reviewing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and feel that it is a very good start in the international recognition of our basic human rights. I have signed this petition asking President Bush to sign the Convention, and would urge all of you to do likewise. It is very nice to see that the United Nations believes accessibility is necessary in order for us to have the ability to participate in society on terms of equality with our peers without disabilities.

Categories: Uncategorized

Security: When Lock Downs Lock Out The Blind

June 6, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Bank Technology News
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Security: When Lock Downs Lock Out The Blind

By Rebecca Sausner

Banks and vendors are working to make online tools secure and usable for the
visually impaired

The Federal Financial Institution Examinations Council mandated that banks
lock down their online banking applications as of January 1 of this year.
Most complied, and that has kept attorney Daniel Goldstein, who represents
the National Federation of the Blind, extremely busy. "We are fielding an
increasing number of complaints from blind people who had been very happily
using their bank's Web services for years and are finding they can't any
longer," Goldstein says. "We're going from accessibility to
non-accessibility because of the security features."

One security measure particularly vexing to blind users are CAPTCHAs
(scrambled words users must decipher in order to complete some online
transactions) because they can't be deciphered by screen reading software.
CAPTCHAs, meant to foil automated Web crawlers by requiring human
intervention, aren't widely used in banking, but disability rights activists
say they are an issue in some online banking applications. "People are
concerned because the visual CAPTCHAs are completely inaccessible," says
Lainey Feingold, a disability rights attorney.

In response, major banks and big-name authentication vendors are trying
ensure that their online banking tools are accessible to blind. Disability
rights activists often laud Bank of America and Wells Fargo for their great
track record of ensuring accessibility. BofA's SiteKey picture gallery
includes thousands of uniquely named images that users can select as part of
their mutually authenticated login, says Betty Riess, BofA spokeswoman.
Authentication vendor Entrust's authentication platform offers a variety of
blind-accessible security measures, including a Braille "bingo" card that
can be used as a second factor, says Steve Neville, director of identity
products and solutions at Entrust. And VASCO Data Security offers
one-time-password tokens that read out passwords and come with headsets for
added security.

http://www.banktechnews.com/article.html?id=20070525M23GM43W

Categories: Uncategorized

Nonvisual Desktop Access (NVDA) Version 0.5 Released

June 6, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The NVDA developers have released version 0.5 of this open source screen reader. It is now available on the project’s download page. Check out the release notes for this new version.

Changes since r425:

  • Added Czech language files thanks to Tomas Valusek.
  • Added Swedish language files thanks to Daniel Innala.
  • NVDA now has a built-in synthesizer called eSpeak, developed by Jonathan Duddington. It is very responsive and lite-weight, and has support for many different languages. Sapi synthesizers can still be used, but eSpeak will be used by default. eSpeak does not depend on any special software to be installed, so it can be used with NVDA on any computer, on a USB thumb drive, or anywhere. For more info on eSpeak, or to find other versions, go to http://espeak.sourceforge.net/.
  • NVDA now uses the built-in eSpeak synthesizer by default.
  • The built-in eSpeak synthesizer will now start in the language NVDA is set to, unless another voice has previously been chosen.
  • Fix bug where the wrong character was being announced when pressing delete in Internet Explorer / Outlook Express editable panes.
  • Added support for more edit fields in Skype.
  • VirtualBuffers only get loaded when focus is on the window that needs to be loaded. This fixes some problems when the preview pane is turned on in Outlook Express.
  • Added commandline arguments to NVDA:
    • -m, –minimal: do not play startup/exit sounds and do not show the interface on startup if set to do so.
    • -q, –quit: quit any other already running instance of NVDA and then exit.
    • -s, –stderr-file fileName: specify where NVDA should place uncaught errors and exceptions.
    • -d, –debug-file fileName: specify where NVDA should place debug messages.
    • -c, –config-file: specify an alternative configuration file
    • -h, -help: show a help message listing commandline arguments.
  • Fixed bug where punctuation symbols would not be translated to the appropriate language, when using a language other than english, and when speak typed characters was turned on.
  • Added Slovak language files thanks to Peter Vagner.
  • Added a Virtual Buffer settings dialog and a Document Formatting settings dialog, from Peter Vagner.
  • Added French translation thanks to Michel Such.
  • Added a script to toggle beeping of progress bars on and off (insert+u). Contributed by Peter Vagner.
  • Made more messages in NVDA be translatable for other languages. This includes script descriptions when in keyboard help.
  • Added a find dialog to the virtualBuffers (internet Explorer and Firefox). Pressing control+f when on a page brings up a dialog in which you can type some text to find. Pressing enter will then search for this text and place the virtualBuffer cursor on this line. Pressing f3 will also search for the next occurance of the text.
  • When speak typed characters is turned on, more characters should be now spoken. Technically, now ascii characters from 32 to 255 can now be spoken.
  • Renamed some control types for better readability. Editable text is now edit, outline is now tree view and push button is now button.
  • When arrowing around list items in a list, or tree view items in a tree view, the control type (list item, tree view item) is no longer spoken, to speed up navigation.
  • Has Popup (to indicate that a menu has a submenu) is now spoken as submenu.
  • Where some languages use control and alt (or altGR) to enter a special character, NVDA now will speak these characters when speak typed characters is on.
  • Fixed some problems with reviewing static text controls.
  • Added Translation for Traditional Chinese, thanks to Coscell Kao.
  • Re-structured an important part of the NVDA code, which should now fix many issues with NVDA’s user interface (including settings dialogs).
  • Added Sapi4 support to NVDA. Currently there are two sapi4 drivers, one based on code contributed by Serotek Corporation, and one using the ActiveVoice.ActiveVoice com Interface. Both these drivers have issues, see which one works best for you.
  • Now when trying to run a new copy of NVDA while an older copy is still running will cause the new copy to just exit. This fixes a major problem where running multiple copies of NVDA makes your system very unusable.
  • Renamed the title of the NVDA user interface from NVDA Interface to NVDA.
  • Fixed a bug in Outlook Express where pressing backspace at the start of an editable message would cause an error.
  • Added patch from Rui Batista that adds a script to report the current battery status on laptops (insert+shift+b).
  • Added a synth driver called Silence. This is a synth driver that does not speak anything, allowing NVDA to stay completely silent at all times. Eventually this could be used along with Braille support, when we have it.
  • Added capitalPitchChange setting for synthesizers thanks to J.J. Meddaugh.
  • Added patch from J.J. Meddaugh that makes the toggle report objects under mouse script more like the other toggle scripts (saying on/off rather than changing the whole statement).
  • Added spanish translation (es) contributed by Juan C. buo.
  • Added Hungarian language file from Tamas Gczy.
  • Added Portuguese language file from Rui Batista.
  • Changing the voice in the voice settings dialog now sets the rate, pitch and volume sliders to the new values according to the synthesizer, rather than forcing the synthesizer to be set to the old values. This fixes issues where a synth like eloquence or viavoice seems to speek at a much faster rate than all other synths.
  • Fixed a bug where either speech would stop, or NVDA would entirely crash, when in a Dos console window.
  • If support for a particular language exists, NVDA now automatically can show its interface and speak its messages in the language Windows is set to. A particular language can still be chosen manualy from the user interface settings dialog as well.
  • Added script ‘toggleReportDynamicContentChanges’ (insert+5). This toggles whether new text, or other dynamic changes should be automatically announced. So far this only works in Dos Console Windows.
  • Added script ‘toggleCaretMovesReviewCursor’ (insert+6). This toggles whether the review cursor should be automatically repositioned when the system caret moves. This is useful in Dos console windows when trying to read information as the screen is updating.
  • Added script ‘toggleFocusMovesNavigatorObject’ (insert+7). This toggles whether the navigator object is repositioned on the object with focus as it changes.
  • Added some documentation translated in to various languages. So far there is French, Spannish and Finish.
  • Removed some developer documentation from the binary distribution of NVDA, it is only now in the source version.
  • Fixed a possible bug in Windows Live Messanger and MSN Messenger where arrowing up and down the contact list would cause errors.
  • New messages are now automatically spoken when in a conversation using Windows Live Messenger. (only works for English versions so far)
  • The history window in a Windows Live Messenger conversation can now be read by using the arrow keys. (Only works for English versions so far)
  • Added script ‘passNextKeyThrough’ (insert+f2). Press this key, and then the next key pressed will be passed straight through to Windows. This is useful if you have to press a certain key in an application but NVDA uses that key for something else.
  • NVDA no longer freezes up for more than a minute when opening very large documents in MS Word.
  • Fixed a bug where moving out of a table in MS Word, and then moving back in, caused the current row/column numbers not to be spoken if moving back in to exactly the same cell.
  • Increasing and decreasing rate scripts can no longer take the rate above 100 or below 0.
  • If there is an error with a language when choosing it in the User Interface Settings dialog, a message box will alert the user to the fact.*NVDA now asks if it should save configuration and restart if the user has just changed the language in the User Interface Settings Dialog. NVDA must be restarted for the language change to fully take effect.
  • If a synthesizer can not be loaded, when choosing it from the synthesizer dialog, a message box alerts the user to the fact.
  • When loading a synthesizer for the first time, NVDA lets the synthesizer choose the most suitable voice, rate and pitch parameters, rather than forcing it to defaults it thinks are ok. This fixes a problem where Eloquence and Viavoice sapi4 synths start speaking way too fast for the first time.

Update: Coming up on Main Menu and Main Menu Live for the week of June 6

June 5, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This week on Main Menu, we hear from Bill McCann of Dancing Dots about accessible solutions for notating and recording music and audio.  Their Lime Aloud and GOODFEEL products let you create musical scores in print and in braille.  their CakeTalking scripts and tutorial provides access to CakeWalk SONAR for users of the JAWS screen reader. During the second hour of Main Menu Live, Bill joins us to discuss CakeTalking and other Dancing Dots products. Feel free to call or chat with us on MSN / Windows Live Messenger all about music and technology from a blindness perspective.

The number to call into the show is 866-400-5333. You can email your questions to mainmenu@acbradio.org. You may also interact with the show via MSN Messenger.

The MSN Messenger ID to add is mainmenu@acbradio.org.

Would you like to interact with a group of Main Menu listeners about the topics heard on Main Menu and Main Menu Live? You can do this by joining the Main

Menu Friends email list. The address to subscribe is main-menu-subscribe@googlegroups.com. Come join an already lively group of users.

Would you like to subscribe to podcast feeds for Main Menu and Main Menu Live? The RSS feeds to add to your podcatching application are:

Main Menu – http://www.acbradio.org/podcasts/mainmenu

Main Menu Live – http://www.acbradio.org/podcasts/mainmenulive

Main Menu and Main Menu Live can be heard on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific, and at 1 universal on Wednesday mornings on the ACB Radio Main Stream channel. To listen to the show, just click this link: http://www.acbradio.org/pweb/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=8&MMN_position=14:14

There will also be a special stereo simulcast of this show on the ACB Radio World channel. To listen to the show, just click this link: http://www.acbradio.org/pweb/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=57&MMN_position=75:75

 

Jeff Bishop and Darrell Shandrow

The Main Menu Production Team

Categories: Uncategorized

Coming up on Main Menu and Main Menu Live for the week of June 6

June 3, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This week on Main Menu, we hear from Bill McCann with Dancing Dots all about the company’s CakeTalking product which provides access to CakeWalk Sonar for users of the JAWS screen reader. During the second hour of Main Menu Live, Bill joins us to discuss CakeTalking and other Dancing Dots products. Feel free to call or chat with us on MSN / Windows Live Messenger all about music and technology from a blindness perspective.

The number to call into the show is 866-400-5333. You can email your questions to mainmenu@acbradio.org. You may also interact with the show via MSN Messenger. The MSN Messenger ID to add is mainmenu@acbradio.org.

Would you like to interact with a group of Main Menu listeners about the topics heard on Main Menu and Main Menu Live? You can do this by joining the Main Menu Friends email list. The address to subscribe is main-menu-subscribe@googlegroups.com. Come join an already lively group of users.

Would you like to subscribe to podcast feeds for Main Menu and Main Menu Live? The RSS feeds to add to your podcatching application are:

Main Menu – http://www.acbradio.org/podcasts/mainmenu

Main Menu Live – http://www.acbradio.org/podcasts/mainmenulive

Main Menu and Main Menu Live can be heard on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific, and at 1 universal on Wednesday mornings on the ACB Radio Main Stream channel. To listen to the show, just click this link: http://www.acbradio.org/pweb/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=8&MMN_position=14:14

Jeff Bishop and Darrell Shandrow

The Main Menu Production Team

Categories: Uncategorized

Blind Access Journal Comment Policy

June 2, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

It has been my longstanding policy not to censor comments posted to Blind Access Journal. I feel the concept of freedom of speech is paramount not only for me as a writer but also for anyone who wishes to provide their feedback, whether it happens to be in agreement or disagreement. There are a couple of categories of comments I feel I must, however, not approve for publication:

  • Unsolicited spam comments not relevant to the content of this blog.
  • Comments containing prophanity, excessive references to adult situations or statements urging others to engage in activities a reasonable person would consider to be illegal in most parts of the world.
  • Comments posted with the sole purpose of personally attacking a third party by way of this blog.

Yesterday evening, I was forced to censor a comment fitting within two of the categories just listed. I really hate censorship, and dislike doing it on my blog even more than experiencing it being done to me.

I have, thus, decided to devise a comment policy for Blind Access Journal, which comes down to the following:

  • Absolutely no spam will be tolerated. All comments are moderated as a way to prevent spam without the need to use visual verification (CAPTCHA). Spam is always ignored.
  • Extreme use of prophanity is unacceptable. Comments deemed to contain certain curse words or an excessive amount of cursing going beyond a “reasonable” community standard will be rejected outright.
  • Use of this blog to personally abuse or attack a third party is totally unacceptable. All comments meeting this description will be rejected outright.
  • This is a family safe blog. All comments of an explicit adult nature will be rejected.

This comment policy is going to be strictly enforced from now on. Such enforcement is currently on a “I know it when I see it” basis. Constructive comments should not be in any danger of violating this policy, so you can bet on having your comment approved if you keep this in mind. Please feel free to read The Blogger’s Guide to Comment Etiquette for some great ideas on how best to compose and post comments that are acceptable on most blogs. Blind Access Journal has a diverse readership among both the blind and the sighted. Let’s all continue to make certain it remains a welcoming place for everyone.

Categories: blogging

Mike Calvo: Separate But Equal is a Myth

June 1, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This is just too important and thought-provoking to exist only as a relatively obscure comment on a couple of blogs.

Separation by definition means that the separated parties will develop in response to different factors and sooner or later inequality will result. That is why Serotek has always focused its mission on accessibility anywhere. Our goal, within our sphere of influence, is to remove all barriers and eliminate accessibility or lack thereof as a reason for separation and discrimination. We believe accessibility is a right, not a privilege.

Jonathan Mosen of Freedom Scientific has said that adaptive technology is a business, not a religion, and we agree. In fact that very perspective has pushed us towards solutions that are increasingly mainstream. The reason is that when a company focuses on solutions only for the blind community, its direction is shaped by the economic forces that govern that community. That means that government funding has a disproportionate role in sale and distribution of its products. It means that the overall market does not have the volume potential that governs the consumer or business technology markets. It takes AT out of the price/performance curves that shape the market for all manner of digital toys and tools. Instead, the people who might benefit most from digital technology are stranded and forced to seek out subsidies to pay the exorbitant prices that AT producers have to charge. And these same AT producers, because their markets are so limited, do not have access to the capital mainstream technology companies can tap and thus tend to lag the industry in applying advances in technology or in bringing innovative, cost/performance improving changes to their product offering.

The capacity and adaptability of human beings is such that sight or lack thereof makes little real difference in the potential contribution a person can make to an organization in most functional roles. There are blind people who can match any sighted person in sales, accounting, product design, information technology, promotion, production, supervisory or executive management. There are highly capable blind janitors and CEOs; blind lawyers and accountants; investors and inventors; teachers and technicians. But a great many of those jobs are several times more difficult for a blind person to get and accomplish than a sighted person because the information that is essential to accomplish the job is not as accessible to the blind person. And that, we believe, is just plain wrong. That inability to access information is a barrier separating accomplished individuals from competing for jobs that they are otherwise qualified. Unfortunately, because our industry has developed and marketed adaptive technology to the “blind” community, it does a poor job of making it easy for businesses to make their information world accessible. Using conventional technology, the cost of making all corporate information accessible in a large corporation or government organization could easily be tens of millions of dollars. And for what? To give one person a chance to compete for one job? The economics as you can see push us to separation. And that keeps the blind community in its box.

At Serotek, our goal is to make that barrier go away. We don’t think it should cost very much to make the world accessible. We think the accessibility should be built in, available for those who need it to tap into it. Accessibility should be a simple “plug-in” that can be added to any application or database. It shouldn’t require an enormous investment in dollars by the organization making the information accessible and it shouldn’t require an enormous investment in training to the individual who wants to use the tool.

Five years ago when Serotek came on the scene, this kind of thinking was fantasy. Now it is well within the realm of possibility. We aren’t there yet, but we can see the day on the horizon when there won’t be an adaptive technology industry. The accessibility tools will always be built in. This kind of thinking requires that we see the blind community as part of the mainstream. It means that blind kids grow up side by side with sighted kids doing the same things. It means that asking whether or not someone is sighted is as taboo as asking their color, sex, or religion. It is not relevant information for most employment or other human activities. For Serotek that means we do think mainstream. We try to make our accessibility tools work for anyone. Our RIM and RAM products, for example, do not discriminate between blind and sighted trainers and technicians. The tools work equally well for either. As information access becomes increasingly mobile and ubiquitous, the need for hands free and eyes free access increases. Our System Access tool can browse the Internet or access an application for a sighted person unable to look at a screen just as well as it can for a blind person.

The Adaptive Technology industry is, we believe, on the cusp of a transition. We see the economics of accessibility changing as it becomes increasingly an important mainstream functionality. As that happens, the technology gap between the tools used by the mainstream community and those available to the blind, will go away and with the disappearance of that gap, the cost/performance factor for accessibility tools will catch-up to the mainstream. Think about it. That will change the entire culture of this industry and the change may not be much to the liking of those who have shaped their business around the traditional economics of AT. Some sacred cows of accessibility, such as Braille, may struggle to find a place in a world where anything stored or transmitted digitally is accessible. Now before I get tuns of email saying I don’t want to see Braille live, I just want to say that I believe that Braille is an important part of a blind person’s life however creating Braille from accessible content is what we should shoot for. I will reserve any other comments I have about Braille for another time.

Serotek is, as far as we know, the only significant AT company where the CEO, CTO, and the majority of employees are blind. Yet our focus is very much on making accessibility a tool for bringing together, not separating the blind community from the mainstream. Accessibility anywhere and everywhere we believe benefits all.

Categories: Uncategorized

BlindConfidential: Blind Advocates and Executives

June 1, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In his post, Blind Advocates and Executives, Blind Christian states in part:

In Darrell’s post, he suggests that two thirds of all AT executives should also be users of the products.  Referring back to the post I did the other day about the need for multiple screen readers, I’m not sure that this would be possible in a relatively complex business like FS or Humanware.  There are zero accounting programs that work properly with a screen reader, thus a CFO and/or comptroller could not also be a blind person.  Virtually none of the human resources software packages work properly with screen readers, nor do most enterprise solutions, project management tools, drawing and diagram programs, etc.  Until the tools that executives need to use are made accessible, blind people are virtually locked out of many senior management jobs.  Thus, I think that two thirds of senior management might be an ideal but I doubt sophisticated investors like those that own Freedom Scientific and Humanware would trust blinks to do the jobs that their own products cannot provide access to.  

He makes an excellent point, but I must ask the critical question: Why aren’t those tools accessible? Yes. Part of the responsibility should rightly fall on the mainstream developers of the tools. All the same, accessibility is a meet-you-halfway process. The screen reader makers also need to step up to the plate and put some serious effort into improving the accessibility of some of this software. It is wonderful that our major blindness assistive technology vendors are working hard to attain and enhance access to Internet Explorer, Office 2007, Windows Vista and other high-demand mainstream products. Unfortunately, access to those programs just isn’t sufficient to perform the duties of most jobs. In addition to accounting, finance, project management and scientific applications, we also need our blindness assistive technology developers to be working hard on access to AJAX, Silverlight and other “Web 2.0” technologies. If we don’t start seeing access to these technologies coming very soon, we risk falling further and further behind. If it hasn’t already happened, we will soon see the day when blind people are losing their jobs due to something like AJAX!

Categories: Uncategorized

BlindConfidential: Traveling Trials and Tribulations

June 1, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Absolutely love this post by Dena on Blind Confidential. Karen and I experience all these issues with air travel. Alas, I am also not sure how the problems can be easily resolved, though her suggestions sure are a great place to start. I wonder just how likely it is that anyone is going to listen until something really discriminatory happens that causes a blind person to become stranded and that person is actually willing to raise enough stink about it to prompt positive changes? See BlindConfidential: Traveling Trials and Tribulations

Categories: travel

NPR, Others Challenge Online Royalties

June 1, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

NPR, Others Challenge Online Royalties
May 31, 2007 – 3:12pm

By SETH SUTEL
AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – National Public Radio is teaming up with online radio
broadcasters to appeal new music royalties that they say would put smaller
operators out of business and force others to sharply scale back their
online music offerings.

NPR filed a notice with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington Wednesday
signaling that it would challenge the ruling by a panel of
copyright judges that would sharply raise the amount of royalties that NPR
stations and others
have to pay record companies for streaming music over the Internet. NPR
also said it was filing a request with the same court on Thursday along with
other Webcasters for an emergency stay blocking the adoption
of the new rates, which are set to go into effect July 15.

Several NPR member stations such as KCRW in Los Angeles have significant
online audiences for music programming, and would have to drastically
cut back those offerings under the new royalty rates, NPR says. NPR
spokeswoman Andi Sporkin, in a statement, called the decision by the
Copyright Royalty Board on May 1 "ill-conceived" and said it would cause
"irreparable
harm" to member stations by forcing them to cut back on streaming music
online.

In addition to NPR, smaller Webcasters and a group representing major
Internet companies including Yahoo Inc., Time Warner Inc.'s AOL unit and
RealNetworks Inc. were expected to join in the motion for a stay on
Thursday.

Separately, a bill seeking to block the new royalties and implement a
different payment system is gathering steam in Congress. The Internet
Radio Equality Act has 100 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and
has also
been introduced in the Senate, says Kurt Hanson, who operates a small online
radio company called AccuRadio. Hanson says the new royalty rates would put
smaller operators such as his out of business. Currently, smaller Webcasters
pay a portion of their revenues – usually from advertising – in royalties,
amounting to about 10 percent to 12 percent. The new rates would require
them to pay each time a song is heard by a listener, as well as minimum
amounts per channel.

The royalties in question only apply to digital transmission of music, such
as over the Internet and through satellite radio. Sirius Satellite Radio
Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. have their own agreements with the
music industry, but those are also being renegotiated. Normal radio
stations don't pay those royalties for regular broadcasts since radio
airplay is seen as having value for promoting sales of music CDs. Both
traditional radio stations as well as online broadcasters pay separate
royalties to the composers and publishers of music.

Categories: Uncategorized