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Happy New Year!

December 31, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We wish you a happy, more accessible New Year in 2005! Let’s resolve to take some positive, definitive action in the new year to improve our overall condition as blind people through the enhancement of information access and public transportation options.

Categories: Uncategorized

Inaccessible Documentation for Blindness Related Products!

December 30, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

How frustrated would you be if you bought a piece of relatively complex electronic equipment only to receive absolutely no documentation as to how to use it effectively? Well, this happens all the time to those of us who happen to be blind. Even worse, it happens not only with mainstream companies, but also with companies doing business in the blindness field. That’s right. Companies selling us products specially designed to meet our needs are failing to provide appropriate manuals or other documentation in alternative formats. This current state of affairs represents an injustice we must not allow to stand unchallenged.

We purchase alternative products to meet our needs. These products can range from assistive high technology such as screen reading software to low technology for daily living and leasure such as talking microwaves, talking clocks and many other such devices. While the assistive technology products do tend to include proper accessible documentation, the lower technology products often do not despite the fact that their operation can sometimes be quite complex, especially when used by people who are not familiar with technology.

We purchase special blindness related products when the mainstream equivalents do not meet our needs. It is often very difficult to use a mainstream microwave oven, especially if no Braille labels have been applied. We are simply unable to read a clock with a visual display due to our physical lack of eye sight. Other mainstream electronics include menus, touch screens and other complex interfaces which have been designed to be usable only to the sighted.

We spend more money on our products because they are designed for a small market as compared to the sighted mass market. Their prices are at least between three and ten times that of the same product for the sighted. Sometimes, that pricing is even higher for us. Since we’re purchasing products designed for us and since we’re often paying large sums of money for these products as compared to the rest of the world, we are right to have certain basic customer expectations. First, we obviously expect the product to be of high quality and to meet the stated need for which it was purchased. Second, we expect to receive all documentation and related materials for that product in a format we can use. That means we expect to receive all written materials in accessible, alternative formats other than print. Print only documentation for these products is simply unacceptable.

There is a specific issue at play concerning the improper lack of provision of accessible documentation on the part of a company in the blindness field. It is a very disappointing scenario concerning Christmas gifts. We are currently working with this company to obtain proper, professional resolution to the issue. Be assured that the outcome of this situation will be covered in great detail in these pages.

Have you received inaccessible, incomplete or incorrect product documentation from a company doing business in the blindness industry? What have you done about it? All comments are welcome.

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Extra, Extra, Read All About It! OpenBook 7.02 released today!

December 23, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I love being the first to discover something and release information about it to the rest of the world, especially since that rarely happens for me. It happened this time and I even posted a quick note to a couple of the blindness related mailing lists.

Freedom Scientific has released the OpenBook 7.02 update sometime today! The most important facility in this free update to OpenBook 7.02 is updated OCR engines, including FineReader 7.0! Learn more at the following link:

This has been another message from the common sense, reality based accessibility advocate who is looking out for you! All comments appreciated as always.

Categories: Uncategorized

Google’s Inaccessible Account Creation Process!

December 22, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I just tried creating a Google account to facilitate participation in groups and other services. I was stopped dead in my tracks for one and only one reason; blindness! See, like many web sites, the creation of a Google account requires typing text shown in a verification graphic. No audio alternative is provided for this information.

The use of verification graphics is intended to test for the presence of a live human being rather than the use of a script or other automated system. This technique prevents the creation of hundreds of accounts by spammers and others who might abuse Internet resources.

Verification graphics without accessible audio alternatives are testing for the presence of only a sighted human being since blind human beings are physically unable to see the graphic. From the point of view of blind people, these are the characteristics of inaccessible security verification graphics:

  • They are intended to test for the presence of a real, live human user.
  • Blind people are human users.
  • Inaccessible verification graphics exclude blind people.
  • They thus fly in the face of our very humanity and personhood.

Verification schemes without appropriately accessible alternatives must be challenged at every turn and their creators must implement corrective actions that empower blind people to avail themselves of all products and services that are available to the sighted. If you are the creator of such a scheme, we in the blind community are more than happy to help you make it accessible. All you must do is ask and you shall receive. If you are a fellow blind Internet user, please comment with ideas on the types of actions we can take to make graphical verification systems accessible.

Categories: Uncategorized Excellent Example of Accessibility!

December 20, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Bookshare is a revolutionary service that provides tens of thousands of accessible electronic books to subscribers who are blind or have other print reading disabilities. Bookshare volunteers scan printed books, perform optical character recognition, clean the text and publish their results for subscribers to download and read on their computers and portable reading devices. The service operates legally under exceptions in United States copyright laws permitting redistribution of books in alternative formats by non-profit organizations serving people with print disabilities.

Bookshare staff must insure that books go only to qualified users with print reading disabilities. This necessitates a disability verification process. This process could be painful and inaccessible, but it is not so in the case of Bookshare subscription.

Bookshare permits two methods of disability verification. The first and simplest involves Bookshare staff contacting NLS, verifying your subscription to their services, and thus verifying your disability with no further action needed on the part of the new subscriber. The second involves the completion of some paperwork on the part of a doctor or other qualified professional verifying your disability. Even the second, more complicated verification process is as accessible as it possibly could be. The process was well thought out and involves the following steps, which can be totally accessible to the blind subscriber:

  1. Subscriber completes an accessible online form.
  2. Subscriber prints the resulting form and presents it to a qualified professional such as a doctor.
  3. That professional completes and signs their portion and sends it to Bookshare by way of a FAX.
  4. Bookshare receives it and promptly sets you up as a qualified subscriber to download copyrighted books.

Providing reasonable, accessible accomodations to the blind does not have to be very difficult at all. All that is required is some professionalism and thoughtfulness on the part of the service provider and all of its employees. This is really all we ask for: a little bit of respect and proper consideration for us and our needs.

As always, comments are appreciated.

Categories: Uncategorized

Accessibility Issues at the Talking Book Library!

December 20, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Today Karen contacted the Talking Book Library to have her NLS services transferred or reestablished. She had tried this in the past without success: receiving paperwork which was only in print and thus lost and never completed.

For anyone who does not already know about this service, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is a division of the Library of Congress that provides books and magazines to the blind and those with print disabilities in either Braille or audio recorded formats. A person who requires these services can safely be presumed to be unable to effectively work with printed information.

Understandably, there are processes for verifying disability and establishing NLS services. Here in Arizona, the NLS services are administered by the Arizona Braille and Talking Book Library Division. Though some paperwork must be completed, it is unjust for such an agency to fail to properly assist the blind applicant for services. In fact, it is an ethical, moral and perhaps even a legal obligation for this agency to make reasonable accomodations.

Let me start by relating the story of Karen’s call to the Arizona Braille and Talking Book Library Division early this afternoon. After explaining that she needed to either transfer or reestablish NLS services, she was told that she would need to complete some paperwork and was asked for her address to which it could be sent. Karen indicated that she was blind and would require some assistance in order to complete this paperwork. Karen was further told by the staff member answering the phone that this would require sighted assistance and that she could not help her, saying that she “had to go”… The woman further told Karen to get off her “soap box”. There are obviously a number of problems with this dialogue, the following items being only a partial list:

  • Unwillingness to provide any reasonable accomodations.
  • Poor customer service.
  • Rudeness and a perception of general disrespect for people with disabilities.
  • Lack of professionalism.

As blind people and as human beings in general, we must not accept such inappropriate conduct. We have e-mailed a letter to the management of the Arizona Braille and Talking Book Library Division insisting on proper resolution of this matter and will keep everyone posted on how this situation plays out.

We insist on the following characteristics as they relate to agencies, companies and organizations serving us specifically as people with disabilities:

  • Respect and professionalism.
  • All correspondence in an accessible, non-printed format.
  • Reasonable accomodations in all dealings, including necessary paperwork.

We will accept nothing less!

If you are an Arizona resident with a print related disability and you have experienced accessibility issues with the Arizona State Braille and Talking Book Library Division, I strongly urge you to e-mail them at to inform them of the issues and insist on proper resolution.

Have you experienced accessibility related problems with your state’s cooperating NLS library and what actions have worked in getting them resolved? Please post your answers so they may help all of us.

Categories: Uncategorized

Accessible package delivery?

December 18, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I am writing today about the experiences my girlfriend and I constantly encounter when trying to receive packages shipped to us through companies such as the Postal Service and UPS. Just as is the case with most of life, there are special obstacles with which we must deal as blind people. I hope the sharing of these experiences and some ideas to solve these package delivery and tracking issues help you in your daily life. I thought this topic would be most appropriate since many of us will be receiving Christmas packages.

I purchased a Christmas gift for my girlfriend online. It was shipped via UPS and I was provided with the tracking number. Each day or two I monitored the package’s status on I was happy to find that it would be delivered on Friday, December 17. Sadly, I didn’t receive it yesterday as expected. The UPS web site indicated that it was in “post card” status due to an incorrect street address. Given the lateness of the hour and the fact that I was by myself at work and thus not safely able to call UPS on the telephone, I sent an e-mail through to insure they had the correct address and ask when the package could be redelivered.

The response from Christine at UPS came this morning. I was invited to pick up the package at the Phoenix delivery center! This is, of course, the typical sighted response, since the world is designed for those who are sighted and thus easily able to drive their automobiles over to that delivery center to pick up the package. Not so easily done for those of us whom happen to be blind and thus unable to transport ourselves. Could I physically pick up the package? Yes. I could ride the bus or take a cab. Here in the Phoenix area, and especially given the location of this particular delivery center, taking the bus would not be practical. Taking a cab would be very expensive. Hey, didn’t I already pay the shipping costs? Yes. I sure did, just like everyone else.

Deciding that the additional expense of a cab ride was inappropriate, I called the UPS call center at 800-PICKUPS. After providing the tracking number, I was again invited to pick up the package. Insisting that this added cost was not acceptable, it was finally agreed that another delivery attempt would be made, using the corrected street address information. Sadly, it can’t be delivered until Tuesday. At least, it will be on time for Christmas. I will, of course, not explicitly trust what UPS agents tell me. I will monitor the web site periodically throughout the day until the package is in my hot little (not so little) hands… We’ll discuss accountability and trust issues in other posts…

I have devised a partial solution to most package delivery issues (at least with UPS) when receiving packages at home. Due to the nature of this particular package, I had it delivered to my work address. This should have been an advantage, since we’re always staffed and our office manager would have accepted the package on my behalf. Only the incorrect address caused trouble. You’ll see later how I have the telephone number for the local UPS office in the city in which I live and how that usually helps with package delivery.

As I have already stated, we experience package delivery issues on a regular basis. The following are examples of how this process is currently inaccessible to blind people, who are unable to independently read print or transport themselves:

  • Printed notices left on the door or in the mailbox.
  • Assumptions that the package could be picked up rather than redelivered.
  • Failure to accomodate the scheduling needs of working people by delivering packages only during week days with insufficient arrangements to deliver later in the evenings or on weekends.
  • Improper handling of our special materials, such as bent or smashed Braille!

Karen and I have come up with a solution to most of these issues that usually works quite well, at least with UPS. UPS cooperates with this solution, while the Postal Service tends to be more difficult. Even with the Postal Service, we ultimately get our packages, but only after lots of telephone calls and absolute insistence that the Postal Service simply follow through and do the right thing!

Several years ago, when we first encountered trouble with UPS, we called their 800 number and insisted on a direct return telephone call from the local office so that we could resolve the issue at hand. When that call came, we used our talking caller ID to obtain the office’s local telephone number. UPS doesn’t like to voluntarily give that information to customers. Here’s how we have solved the package delivery issues with UPS:

  1. Obtain the UPS tracking number from the person or company shipping the package.
  2. Use the web site or call 1-800-PICKUPS to track the package on a daily basis.
  3. When you see that the package has been scheduled for delivery, call your local UPS office, not the national number if possible.
  4. Give the tracking number, tell the representative that you’re blind, and request a reasonable delivery alternative that does not involve your picking up the package. Tell the representative that you do not have reliable transportation, so the stock answers won’t meet your needs. Our request typically involves placing the package on the latest possible delivery route so that we will be home to receive it in the evening. If the first representative you speak with does not seem to care about your situation or otherwise seems not to understand your request, ask to speak with someone in a supervisory role.
  5. You will receive your package. Sometimes, it will be one or two days later than it would have been for the sighted customer, but this process will insure that you do receive it in a reasonable manner.

Karen and I hope these suggestions help you to insure your receipt of your packages. Whenever possible, we recommend using UPS as the carrier, since they seem to put forth the best effort in dealing with blind customers.

We do have one question. How can we prevent the Postal Service from mangling our Braille materials? As always, all comments are appreciated.

Categories: Uncategorized

Accessible wireless security!

December 17, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Wireless network technology is revolutionary! Connect a wireless (Wi-Fi) router or access point to your local area network, set up one or more laptop computers with built-in or externally connected wireless network adapters, and you’re free to use the Internet or access resources such as files and printers connected to other computers on your network. You’re no longer tied to a single chair in your home or office.

As with all things, there is a catch, and it can turn out to be a real gotcha if you’re not careful. This caveat is typically almost nonexistent security. The radio signals involved in a wireless computer network can broadcast hundreds of feet outside your home or office. In addition, the default, out of the box, configurations of most access points or routers are wide-open with absolutely no security measures enabled. Most new users of wireless networking technology don’t understand the need for security or they don’t know the procedures to follow in order to make the data on their wireless networks secure. This lack of security brings serious potential consequences to the Wi-Fi user including but certainly not limited to slow Internet connectivity, data loss, financial disaster and identity theft.

The practice of “war driving” involves driving around a particular area seeking out available wireless networks. Once an available network is discovered, various software tools can be used to discover its vulnerabilities, read the data traveling across the network or even gain complete access! Once access to your wireless network has been achieved, an unscrupulous road warrior could do the following:

  • Use your wireless network to obtain access to the Internet.
  • Steal usernames and passwords for items such as your bank account, instant messaging software or e-mail account.
  • Steal valuable personal information such as your credit card numbers and even your Social Security Number!
  • Steal your identity!

It is thus absolutely necessary that you apply due diligence to insure the security of your wireless network. Today’s wireless routers and access points provide two security solutions: WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wireless Protected Access). Due to a number of widely known and exploited vulnerabilities, WEP has become essentially useless. A colleague likes to compare WEP to a screen door on a submarine. WPA is much better. The protocol’s encryption is much stronger than WEP and the preshared key is not sent in the clear. This just means that both the data itself and the information used to establish your identity and encrypt your connection is secured and is unavailable to anyone with common hacking software. This version of WPA is known as WPA-PSK (Wireless Protected Access with Pre-Shared Key).

Even WPA is imperfect. The preshared key does not change automatically. It remains static unless you, the user, explicitly change it in both the router / access point and the computers connecting to the network. Though not excessively difficult, this reconfiguration process is not likely to be carried out on a daily basis let alone once every four or six hours as would be recommended for the best possible security. Though WPA is definitely the foundation for a properly secured wireless network, it needs just a bit more assistance. That help is provided by WPA-RADIUS, which adds authentication to your wireless network. Unfortunately, by itself, WPA-RADIUS is not practical for most home and small to medium business users as its implementation and maintenance requires the expertise of a technology professional who can set up and manage an authentication server. Fortunately, one solution completes the wireless security puzzle without the need of an IT staff: WSC Guard from Wireless Security Corporation!

WSC Guard provides the best of all worlds in wireless network security by incorporating the WPA-RADIUS authentication and security protocols in to a single, easy to configure package that requires no ongoing maintenance other than to add or remove those who are allowed to access your network via a simple, accessible web site. WSC provides the following benefits:

  • Up and running in 15 minutes or less.
  • Professional, highly responsive customer service and technical support.
  • Entire solution is accessible to blind users who rely on screen reading or screen magnification technology.
  • Quick, one-time configuration of your access point or router for optimal security.
  • Quick software installation and username/password login to the network for computers running Windows 2000 or Windows XP.
  • Easy to understand reporting of all intrusion attempts.

As many of you already know, I rely on the JAWS screen reader to access my computers. I am virtually totally blind and do not live with a sighted person who can get me out of any jams that might be caused by buggy, inaccessible software. WSC Guard is a solid, totally accessible solution that provides the highest possible level of wireless network security at the lowest possible cost.

WSC Guard is available as a 30 day free trial. After that, it costs only $4.95 per month or $49.95 per year for each user of the wireless network. Please feel free to visit the Wireless Security Corporation web site to learn more about WSC Guard, sign up for the free trial, download and install the software. You may also e-mail me directly with any questions and I’ll certainly do my best to answer them for you.

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